French look to bounce back against Wales
PARIS (AFP) – France will be looking to get back on a winning track on Saturday and inflict a ninth successive defeat on Wales in their Six Nations clash.
Both teams suffered opening match defeats, the French losing 23-18 to Italy and the Welsh recovering some pride after a woeful first-half performance losing 30-22 to Ireland in Cardiff.
However, France had been on a four-match winning streak prior to that and back at home, and with another week training together, coach Philippe Saint-Andre is looking for a much improved performance.
“At the highest level it is not the dynamic of victories which show what you’re made of but in how you deal with defeat,” said the 45-year-old, who guided France to fourth place in his first Six Nations in charge last year.
“We shall see how capable we are of reacting individually and collectively to find solutions,” he insisted, demanding a reaction and “great solidarity” in swiftly turning their campaign around.
“To be ambitious is to show it on the pitch. We have to rediscover collective precision and a physical and mental ferocity to win duels as well as the efficiency which was cruelly lacking for us against Italy.”
Saint-Andre, who succeeded in one of his aims last year in getting France a top four seeding for the 2015 World Cup, resisted the urge to make sweeping changes, restricting himself to just two.
Lock Jocelino Suta wins his fourth cap as he comes in for the injured Pascal Pape – who is replaced as captain by former skipper Thierry Dusautoir – while giant centre Mathieu Bastareaud is preferred to Florian Fritz.
Saint-Andre, a former France captain and capped 69 times, said that Fritz was not being singled out for blame for the Italy debacle.
It was simply a strategic choice.
“It is not a punishment. We win as 23 and we lose as 23,” said Saint-Andre.
“It is more a strategic choice with regard to the Welsh defence and also it means all three of our midfield (fly-half Frederic Michalak and centres, Bastareaud and Maxime Mermoz) play together at club level (Toulon).”
The French players, though, know that a repeat of their 16 turnovers will not only be punished by the Welsh but also by their coach when he selects his side for the third game against England later this month.
However, scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, who was heavily criticised for his performance against Italy, believes they can turn things round.
“We have to remain positive because the things that we have to improve on are simple ones. It’s not as if everything didn’t work last Sunday,” he said.
Wales have little to be positive about having completely lost their way since storming to the Grand Slam last year.
Losing coach Warren Gatland to his duties as British and Irish Lions handler has hurt them badly and left interim coach Rob Howley searching desperately for a win that will ease the pressure.
The loss of inspirational captain Sam Warburton to injury – Ryan Jones takes over for a record 30th Test as skipper – makes the odds even longer of Wales recording just their fourth win in Paris since 1975.
Howley, though, believes that if Wales can carry the momentum from their second-half display against the Irish they could end their dreadful run.
“We know that we will have to start well and start the way we finished the game against Ireland,” the former Wales and British and Irish Lions scrum-half said.
“Playing France in Paris is always a huge match but we have worked hard as a squad this week and want to deliver a performance we know we are capable of.”