French have World Cup aspirations
French have World Cup aspirationsSHARE
The present French side can go on and win the World Cup next year, despite a third successive disappointing Six Nations campaign, said head coach Philippe Saint-Andre.
The 46-year-old – who unlike his two predecessors Bernard Laporte and Marc Lievremont failed to either land the Grand Slam or the Six Nations title the year before a World Cup – was speaking after Ireland had beaten France 22-20 in a pulsating encounter at the Stade de France on Saturday.
Victory gave the Irish – whom Saint-Andre has yet to beat in three Six Nations encounters with two draws preceding Saturday's game – the title only a year after they finished fifth with the French bottom.
It also came in the 141st and final Test match of iconic Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll.
Defeat for the French – who had entered the game with outside hopes of taking the title themselves – saw them finish fourth, equal on six points with deposed champions Wales but with a poorer points difference.
However, Saint-Andre – who also guided France to fourth place in his first Six Nations in 2012 – insisted that the statistics didn't tell the whole story.
"Of course we can win the World Cup," said Saint-Andre, whose immediate predecessor Lievremont guided France to an 8-7 defeat in the 2011 final by hosts New Zealand.
"We are growing and on the right path.
"This week was a tough one [they were slammed for their narrow win over Scotland the previous Saturday] but they [the players] showed real character. They gave both me and the spectators real pleasure with their performance against the Irish.
"We are a young team and working really hard to iron out some things that aren't right but we are getting there."
Saint-Andre, a former international wing and captain of France, said one thing had definitely been laid to rest and that was the criticism of the players lacking basic skills and the eagerness to play.
"We can't say that the players don't know how to play rugby nor lack the hunger for the fight," he said.
"We created a lot of opportunities and took some. However, at the highest level the end result can be cruel.
"If we had won the match we would have finished second but instead we finish fourth as opposed to sixth last year.
"But we are better than last year, we have won three of our five matches [they won just one in last year's Six Nations] and we are building something."
Saint-Andre, who has previously coached English sides Gloucester and Sale and French clubs Bourgoin and Toulon, said he took one consolation from the defeat.
"Next year we play Ireland in Dublin and then the World Cup and I look forward to that especially as BOD [O'Driscoll's nickname] won't be there and hopefully lady luck will be on our side."
His Ireland counterpart Joe Schmidt, who won the title in his maiden Six Nations after replacing Declan Kidney after last year's tournament, had words of comfort for Saint-Andre.
"To my mind they played their best match of the tournament against us," said the 48-year-old New Zealander.
"We could perhaps count ourselves lucky that our line held at times in the face of their attacks.
"However, they have grown a lot since the beginning of the tournament."