Planet Rugby

State of the Nation: France

05th December 2013 10:01

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SKY_MOBILE Sebastien Vahaamahina Yoann Huget Florian Fritz Remi Tales Benjamin Kayser France

France: Quelle année de m...

As we do at the end of every year, we look at the state of affairs in each of the world's leading nations. Next up, France!

They say you learn through defeat. If that's true, France learnt a lot in 2013.

The stats do not make for pleasant reading. Eleven games played for just two wins, both against nations ranked outside the top eight in the world (Scotland and Tonga). Removing the four tries scored against Tonga leaves the les Bleus with just nine tries score in their other ten games.

Looking at those numbers, combined with the Six Nations wooden spoon - France's first in the six-team era and only their second in 44 years - it's impossible to deny that 2013 was the XV de France's worst year since 1980 as they slipped to fifth in the world rankings.

"The stats are more than mediocre" admitted coach Philippe Saint-André, and although he would never say so publicly, the former wing would have a number of legitimate arguments to plead for mitigating circumstances.

First of all, it's worth noting that four of their games were against the All Blacks and another was against the Springboks. No one else beat those teams in 2013 either.

The June tour to New Zealand was always going to be a mammoth task, not least because the French squad flew out in two batches due to the ridiculous clash with Top 14 Final. Had it not been for Toulouse and Clermont being knocked out of the semi-finals, PSA would have struggled to assemble a team anywhere near full-strength.

Indeed, pre-match preparations were far from ideal throughout the year, as has become the norm, but the tourists still managed to produce some promising performances. Nevertheless, the results were very disappointing with just one try scored over the course of 240 minutes of the three-Test series.

Back on home soil in November and with a few experienced heads back, the clash against the All Blacks at the Stade de France will be seen in a positive light, despite the narrow loss. Unlike during the Six Nations, the defence was solid in November, the gameplan started to look coherent and the team spirit was clearly upbeat as the building blocks laid in June provide a platform for a more stable selection policy.

Finishing has been a major problem. In Auckland, New Plymouth and in both November Tests in Paris, France had the ability to gain lions share of possession but were unable to take their chances, as highlighted above in those woeful try-scoring stats.

The new-look group is maturing, but wins against the top nations are now the only way this team will gain the confidence needed to challenge for silverware again.

There is reason for hope as the emergence of exciting young players like full-back Brice Dulin and the return of flank Wenceslas Lauret are proof that les Bleus do not lack for depth of talent.

But 2014 Six Nations must produce morale-boosting results or surely Saint-André's position will come under the spotlight ahead of a difficult tour to Australia next June.

The key to future success may well lie in the boardroom, where negotiations between the French Federation and League are currently underway. As it stands, the Bleus coaching staff do not even know if they will have access to the players five days or fifteens days before the first Six Nations Test.

France's national team could do with a little help from their administrators.

By Ross Hastie

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