French out to avenge World Cup woes
France and England meet next Saturday in the Six Nations at the same venue where French World Cup hopes were extinguished by their bitter rivals.
New French coach Marc Lievremont has swept out a lot of the old guard and replaced them with fresh faces with a view to rebuilding for the 2011 World Cup.
With it has come two wins against Scotland and Ireland as the French backs have displayed an attacking verve so lacking under former coach Bernard Laporte whose tenure came to an end with October’s World Cup semifinal loss at the Stade de France.
England have rarely looked like the side that reached the World Cup final.
They have been beaten by Wales and squeezed out a victory over Italy in a match they could have lost had the Italians not been so feeble in the lineouts and had a kicker of the calibre of Jonny Wilkinson.
Lievremont has bemoaned the fact that having built up some momentum the national team had to send players back to their clubs.
“It’s a pity that we had a break in our preparation,” said the 39-year-old, who was a member of the France side that reached the 1999 World Cup final.
“We would have liked to have had the players together last Monday so we could run through what went awry against the Irish [France won 26-21 but had led 19-6 at half-time].
“England is a big challenge, we are going to have to step up another level. When one sees how roughly we were handled by the Irish and we see the English on the horizon, it makes one feel very small.”
However, with his Toulouse duo of fullback Cedric Heymans and winger Vincent Clerc tearing strips off opposition—they both got two tries apiece in Toulouse’s win over Perpignan on Saturday—England’s fragile defence could be in for a hard afternoon’s work.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson’s halfback partner Andy Gomarsall acknowledges that there has been a distinct difference between France and the English in the tournament.
“They are playing some fantastic stuff and the difference between us and them at the moment is they are converting their chances,” Gomarsall wrote in his column for the BBC.
“The more we play together as a team the more we will improve. It happened in the World Cup and and it certainly needs to happen now because the French clearly have managed to get that cohesion more quickly than we have.”
The other matches see a revived Wales side take on the Italians although it would be a surprise were Warren Gatland’s Welshmen to lose.
In Dublin, the futures of Ireland’s and Scotland’s coaches will come under the microscope.
While Eddie O’Sullivan’s Irish have hardly set the pulses racing, a repeat of the spirit they showed in coming back at the French in the second-half from 26-6 down to lose 26-21 should be enough against a Scottish side that had little to offer either against France or Wales.
Indeed they have made a mockery of coach Frank Hadden’s prediction at the end of their World Cup where they lost to Argentina in the quarterfinals.
“Some of these young players have matured a lot in a short pace of time and I think in the next Six Nations we will be a side to be reckoned with,” predicted Hadden.