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State of the Nation: France

19th March 2014 10:57

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France s rugby union national team head coach Philippe Saint Andre

In the firing line: Philippe Saint-André

As we do at the end of a major tournament, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, France!

The knives are out for Philippe Saint-André, and it's not difficult to see why. Beyond the poor results of the past two and a half years, it's the way France are playing under PSA that has French fans frustrated.

Let's start with the results because, after all, that's what really matters.

In 26 matches, France have won just 11 times under Saint-André. Marc Lièvremont was far from popular in his four-year stint at the helm, but it's worth noting that under his guidance les Bleus never finished lower than third in the Six Nations and claimed a Grand Slam in 2010. Saint-André has had three cracks at the Championship but has failed to finish higher than fourth.

In any other country, his head would be on the chopping block, but, for the same reasons he got the job in the first place, you can be certain the FFR will retain the current coach until the next World Cup, which is now just 18 months away.

While the French staff are underlining the progress made from last year (at least they avoided the Wooden Spoon this time!) finishing fourth is simply not good enough considering their favourable draw and talent available.

A lucky bounce or two helped France edge England, despite being outplayed for the better part of an hour. Victory at home to Italy is not worth crowing about and the performances in Cardiff and Edinburgh were poor to say the least.

A comparison between England's total domination at Murrayfield and France's lucky late escape illustrates just how far below the bar the XV de France have fired. The set-piece, once a strength, has become a major cause for concern.

The narrow loss in an exciting game against Ireland in the finale in Paris offers something to be positive about but it also highlights the inconsistency of French performance's this year.

The evidence suggests that the inability to win away from home that has become almost institutionalised in the Top 14 has infected the mindset of the national squad.

One must ask whether the lack of invention and positive intent is a function of the players involved or the instructions from the staff. The conservative tactics and apparent lack of a clear game plan have been recurrent themes in French newspaper columns over the past year, although the game against Ireland offered a glimmer of hope.

Assistant coach Patrice Lagisquet has pointed to a lack of confidence amongst the half-backs and it is clear the team as a whole lacks stability. 69 players have been selected over the past two years, including 18 different back-row combinations and 12 different half-back duos. Just four players in the starting XV last weekend were wearing the same jersey in last year's game against Ireland.

Obviously injuries have had a massive impact, but no team can hope to build something coherent with that kind of turnover.

It's not all the selector's fault though. The continued tug-of-war between the Top 14 clubs and the national side caused by the ridiculous French calendar and the knock-on affect it has on player freshness and preparation time is at heart of the problem.

Until those issues can be resolved, it's hard to see France winning silverware of any kind in the near future.

By Ross Hastie

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RBS Six Nations Table
PosTeamPPts
1Ireland58
2England58
3Wales56
4France56
5Scotland52
6Italy50