French team has soul
French team has soulSHARE
The French team has soul and spirit despite a disastrous Six Nations campaign that saw them land the wooden spoon for the first time since 1999, claimed a defiant France coach Philippe Saint-Andre.
The French took the unwanted prize despite beating Scotland 23-16 here at the Stade de France on Saturday, their first win of the campaign, to end the tournament with three points.
They finished bottom of the table, equal on points with Ireland but with a worse points difference.
Saint-Andre, who replaced the unpredictable Marc Lievremont after France lost 8-7 to the All Blacks in the 2011 World Cup final, said his largely young group of players had shown their resilience during the tournament.
"This team has soul, spirit and the will to fight," said the 45-year-old.
"Twice they had the character to come from behind, against the Irish last week (they came from 13-3 down to draw 13-13) and again against the Scots (they trailed 6-0 at half-time)."
However, Saint-Andre said they needed to acquire other qualities which were painfully absent throughout the tournament, namely executing their try scoring chances of which at least four went abegging against the Scots.
The most glaring of these was perpetrated by replacement prop Vincent Debaty, who ignored a team-mate inside him with the tryline beckoning and instead opted to run at the one Scottish defender who brought him down and the Scots ended up being awarded a penalty and were able to clear.
"At this level you require patience and to be more clinical," said Saint-Andre.
"However, we have a team packed with youth, a very young second row, very young centres, and they will learn. We believe in the youth of French rugby.
"We have been criticised, mostly by the usual suspects, but we believe in our project which is building a squad for the 2015 World Cup.
"The team had some doubts about itself during the tournament but despite that and the overall end result we will take a lot out of this Six Nations."
Saint-Andre, who must take his squad on a daunting three test tour of New Zealand in June, tried to brush aside finishing bottom by arguing that but for a refereeing error near the end they would have finished above the Irish.
"Gael Fickou was clearly obstructed when he was inside Scottish territory and now that there are effectively three referees (the on-pitch referee and his two touch judges) I don't understand why they missed it," said Saint-Andre.
"As a result the Scots got possession and scored a converted try. If the referee had, as he should have done, awarded the penalty we would have scored the three points and had the necessary points difference to not finish bottom."
"However, it didn't happen so we have to accept that we are bottom and I shoulder the responsibility for that."
Saint-Andre, who revealed underfire fly-half Frederic Michalak had probably dislocated his left shoulder late in the game, said he hoped finishing bottom would provide a wake up call to French clubs and the federation.
He has laid a large part of the blame for the poor performances at the door of an overloaded domestic playing schedule which he is praying will be revised when the clubs, the players representatives and the federation meet in June.
"My two predecessors asked for a similar reform," he said.
"I hope, I really hope that they finally do so, not just so we can build properly for the 2015 World Cup but for the next 15 years.
"This is a huge competition and the fans who turn out in their thousands, like the 15,000 that travelled to Dublin ,deserve to see a competitive French team."