France hungry to set things right
France hungry to set things rightSHARE
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has vowed to rid his side of the bitter taste of defeat when they host Tonga in Le Havre on Saturday.
It has been a miserable 2013 for France with just one victory in nine matches, alongside seven defeats, including four out of four against New Zealand.
Their only victory this calendar year came in March when an unconvincing 23-16 success at home to Scotland couldn't prevent them from finishing with the wooden spoon.
They scored just six tries and 73 points, their worst ever Six Nations return having never before finished bottom nor failed to pass the 100-point mark.
That was followed by a 3-0 series loss in New Zealand in June, including a 30-0 humbling in the second Test in Christchurch, before last weekend's 26-19 home defeat to the All Blacks that did at least restore some pride in the French game.
"This bitter taste of defeat in the mouth, there's been a lot of it in 2013," admitted Saint-Andre.
"We want to improve with respect to our last matches, that means panicking less whenclose to the tryline, scoring (tries) and being more aggressive at the breakdown."
There is also the small matter of revenge on the table.
Incredibly for two countries with such vastly different resources, France and Tonga are level in their all-time encounters having won two each.
Most recently, Tonga beat France 19-14 in the pool stages of the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, although that didn't stop Les Bleus stumbling through to the final and almost shocking the All Blacks in the trophy match.
Still, Saint-Andre wants to wipe out any memories of their abject defeat in Wellington.
"We don't want to be dictated to, it's up to us to set the tempo of the match," said the coach.
One saving grace, perhaps, is that this is not a great Tongan side, which lost 19-18 in Romania last weekend.
Less than half the team ply their trade in either of the three major European top flight leagues or the southern hemisphere's Super Rugby competition.
Four of their starting XV play second division French rugby, one is in the English Championship while flyhalf Fangatapu Apikotoa plays in his homeland and captain Nili Latu is one of two Japan-based players.
Despite Tonga's own frailties, France seem to have been buoyed by their performance at the Stade de France last Saturday.
Brice Dulin crossed for a second half try while flyhalf Remi Tales and centre Wesley Fofana broke the gainline several times and looked capable of creating something.
"There was a moment when we felt we were really in it. I have an image in the last five minutes of (New Zealand captain) Richie McCaw who couldn't stop looking at the clock. He felt it would be a long time," said lock and former captain Pascal Pape.
Current captain Thierry Dusautoir is equally positive: "I feel that this team can do great things (but) now we have to win matches."
That is unlikely to be a task beyond France on Saturday but a truer test of whether this team is on the mend and on the rise again will come in a week's time, back at the Stade de France against South Africa, themselves beaten only by the All Blacks so far in 2013.