Vulnerable France looking for direction as World Cup nears

Wed Mar 12, 2014 1:04pm EDT
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By Julien Pretot

MARCOUSSIS, France (Reuters) - More than two years since Philippe Saint-Andre took charge, France do not seem to know where they are heading as the 2015 World Cup approaches, having used nearly a dozen halfback pairings and more than a dozen third-row combinations.

World Cup finalists in 2011, France finished fourth in the 2012 Six Nations and took the wooden spoon last year. And even if they go on to win this year's championship, they do not seem to have a clear strategy.

Saint-Andre has been tinkering with his team and has yet to find the perfect scrumhalf-flyhalf combination, having tried 11 starting permutations during his 28 games in charge.

Maxime Machenaud, Frederic Michalak, Jules Plisson, Morgan Parra, Francois Trinh-Duc, Remi Tales, Jean-Marc Doussain, Camille Lopez, Dimitri Yachvili and Lionel Beauxis have all started since 2012, but which pair will be chosen for the first World Cup game next year is anyone's guess.

Asked how France could improve and find their rhythm with so many changes being made, wing Yoann Huget grinned and said: "Ask the coach."

Les Bleus had a terrible 2013, finishing the Six Nations with the wooden spoon after managing only one win against Scotland. They enjoyed only one victory, against Tonga, in November, but that was on the back of three defeats against the All Blacks in June.

In the current Six Nations, victories against England and Italy were followed by a 27-6 thrashing by Wales and a narrow, last-gap 19-17 win in Scotland last Saturday.

To add to their difficulties, they have not been their usual dominant selves at the scrum following rule changes made by the International Rugby Union (IRB), who see the phase less as a ground-gaining possibility than as a way of launching play.   Continued...

French players react after scoring a try against Italy during their Six Nations rugby union match at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris, February 9, 2014. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes