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No excuses if we fail at Twickenham: Saint-Andre

Date

Mick Cleary

"We must show our supporters what we are made of" ... Philippe Saint-Andre.

"We must show our supporters what we are made of" ... Philippe Saint-Andre. Photo: Getty Images

 The blast of the whistle cut the chill morning air at the French National Centre du Rugby at Marcoussis some 18 miles south of Paris. A pass had gone astray, the ball spilt and momentum lost. Even from a distance it was possible to sense Philippe Saint-Andre's annoyance. The France head coach knows what lies ahead. Twickenham. And Saint-Andre is all too aware of what is at stake. Redemption or humiliation.

Which is it to be? "If we win this game, for sure we can save our Six Nations," Saint-Andre said, breaking off from a meeting with a government minister who was visiting the centre to discuss the plans for a new national rugby stadium to be built at nearby Evry.

"Perhaps the public can forgive us our sins if we can beat the English. But if we don't show pride and collectivity and skills, then we will be in trouble. At Twickenham, against the English, if you lose five centimetres in the collision in the opening minutes, by the end of the match it will be five metres.

"So you must show heart. And, for sure, we can do this. We saw that in November [when France beat Australia, Argentina and Samoa]. But, yes, it's true. Back then we were flying. Now we are a submarine."

Saint-Andre insists that there should be "no excuses, no alibis" on Saturday. France are coming to play rugby, "without the handbrake on", as he puts it - with relish as well as with passion, with intelligence as well as with force.

That is the vision of the game he sketches out with great clarity as well as feeling. He admits that the manner of the defeats by Italy and Wales was "unacceptable". He acknowledges the right of the Stade de France crowd to vent their frustration with whistles and boos.

Saint-Andre knows, too, that TV interviewers that morning had been asking his players what they thought of the arrival of David Beckham in French sport. It does not take much for a fickle public to drift away.

"We must show our supporters what we are made of," Saint-Andre said. "That is all that I ask. We want them to be proud of us. Instead they are depressed. So we must play for the jersey. We must have fight."

Saint-Andre was part of that generation of the early nineties when "fight" was given literal meaning in these encounters. Le Crunch had resonance because it was invariably a brutal affair with punch-ups and red cards. Those days are gone.

"It was gladiators back then, now it is more muscular chess," Saint-Andre said, recalling several epic contests, in one of which in 1991 he scored one of the greatest tries seen at Twickenham yet still ending up on the losing side. "Now you have four referees, 600 video angles, so, no, that sort of stuff, with all the bluff and intimidation beforehand, is in the museum. But the game is much faster now, really dynamic, full of real power, and that's what you have to prepare for."

Ah, preparation. That is a delicate subject in these parts. It has been a long-running sore that the French players have less time together than the other Six Nations countries, that the demands of the Top14 domestic league mean that several players have already clocked up more than 20 games this season. "That's almost as many as the All Black players get through in an entire season," Saint-Andre said.

He also has grave concerns about the number of foreign players operating in the Top 14. He worries that French rugby is losing its national identity.

"Yes, it is a big, big problem and the French supporters have to take notice of this," he said.

He feels that the state of affairs is akin to English football with the influx of players from overseas. "I was saying this in November when we were winning so it is not, how you say, sour grapes. We have to be aware of our identity.

"We used to have a Basque prop, a guy from Toulon on the other side, a Clermont hooker, perhaps. But now all the tighthead props are either from Tonga, Romania or Georgia. We have to be careful. What about fly-halves? What about wings, eh? Twenty of the 28 on show every week in Top 14 are non-French. So, when Vincent Clerc gets injured just before Le Tournoi, what can I do?"

To much condemnation he moved the impressive Clermont centre, Wesley Fofana, to the wing. "I have big shoulders and I am happy to take the blame, but something must be done," he said. A new deal for player release and other issues is due to be thrashed out in the summer.

"It's good to have players like Jonny Wilkinson come here, real stars, so we learn about professionalism," Saint-Andre continued. "But the balance is completely wrong. Our top players play too much and our young boys do not play enough because their way through is blocked. It is a double problem. England has recognised what was happening and has put a good system in place. Everyone in our public has to recognise that the image of French rugby is the French team."

Is there a crisis in French rugby?

"I can't say that but there is a problem," said Saint-Andre, whose most pressing concern is to select a team to take on England and to boost morale. "It's important not to panic but it's only right that there have been changes [five in the match-day squad]. We have to react better on the field."

Mission impossible then at Twickenham?

"No, it is never this for we play with a rugby ball and that can bounce all sorts of ways," Saint-Andre said. "England play very well. They are disciplined and organised. This will be our toughest game of all. We have to go there in a desperate frame of mind, to play for each other and with great ferocity. We will find out who has character, who can battle and who is weak. If we don't perform, it will be a long, long afternoon."

Saint-Andre has already endured two of those in this championship, experiences which he says were "not pleasant". He has little appetite for a reprise. But the reality is stark. England are in their pomp. France are bowed if not yet broken. One shot at redemption. The message from Marcoussis yesterday was clear. Saint-Andre is taking aim.

The Telegraph, London

 

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Fri, 13 FebTimes shown AEDT
CRU 10 vs REB 20 Report Stats
BRU 47 vs RED 3 Stats
Sat, 14 FebTimes shown AEDT
LIO 8 vs HUR 22 Report Stats
BLU 18 vs CHF 23 Report Stats
Sun, 15 FebTimes shown AEDT
SHA 29 vs CHT 35 Report Stats
BUL 17 vs STO 29 Report Stats
WAR 13 vs FOR 25 Stats
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Round 2
Fri, 20 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHF 19 vs BRU 17 Report Stats
REB 28 vs WAR 38 Report Stats
Sat, 21 FebTimes shown AEDT
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HIG 20 vs CRU 26 Report Stats
RED 18 vs FOR 6 Report Stats
Sun, 22 FebTimes shown AEDT
STO 27 vs BLU 16 Report Stats
SHA 29 vs LIO 12 Report Stats
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Round 3
Fri, 27 FebTimes shown AEDT
HIG 20 vs RED 13 Report Stats
FOR 13 vs HUR 42 Stats
Sat, 28 FebTimes shown AEDT
CHT 25 vs BLU 24 Report Stats
CHF 40 vs CRU 16 Stats
REB 15 vs BRU 20 Report Stats
Sun, 01 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 43 vs SHA 35 Report Stats
LIO 19 vs STO 22 Report Stats
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Round 4
Fri, 06 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHF 17 vs HIG 20 Report Stats
BRU 27 vs FOR 15 Report Stats
Sat, 07 MarTimes shown AEDT
BLU 10 vs LIO 13 Report Stats
RED 5 vs WAR 23 Report Stats
Sun, 08 MarTimes shown AEDT
CHT 20 vs BUL 39 Report Stats
STO 29 vs SHA 13 Report Stats
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Round 5
Fri, 13 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 30 vs BLU 23 Report Stats
FOR 17 vs REB 21 Report Stats
Sat, 14 MarTimes shown AEDT
CRU 34 vs LIO 6 Report Stats
HIG 26 vs WAR 19 Report Stats
RED vs BRU 29 Stats
Sun, 15 MarTimes shown AEDT
STO 19 vs CHF 28 Report Stats
CHT 10 vs SHA 27 Report Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13 vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16 vs LIO 20 Report Stats
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CRU 57 vs CHT 14 Report Stats
Sun, 22 MarTimes shown AEDT
BUL 25 vs FOR 24 Report Stats
SHA 12 vs CHF 11 Report Stats
WAR 28 vs BRU 13 Report Stats
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Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 36 vs REB 12 Report Stats
RED 17 vs LIO 18 Report Stats
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CHF 37 vs CHT 27 Report Stats
HIG 39 vs STO 21 Report Stats
WAR 23 vs BLU 11 Report Stats
Sun, 29 MarTimes shown AEDT
SHA 15 vs FOR 9 Report Stats
BUL 31 vs CRU 19 Report Stats
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Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR 25 vs STO 20 Report Stats
REB 23 vs RED 15 Report Stats
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF 23 vs BLU 16 Report Stats
BRU 20 vs CHT 3 Report Stats
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA 10 vs CRU 52 Report Stats
LIO 22 vs BUL 18 Report Stats
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Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU 16 vs BRU 14 Report Stats
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CRU 20 vs HIG 25 Report Stats
WAR 18 vs STO 32 Report Stats
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BUL 43 vs RED 22 Report Stats
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Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU 9 vs CHF 26 Report Stats
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR 24 vs WAR 29 Report Stats
HIG 30 vs BLU 24 Report Stats
BRU 8 vs REB 13 Report Stats
FOR 6 vs STO 13 Report Stats
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SHA 10 vs BUL 17 Report Stats
CHT 17 vs RED 18 Report Stats
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Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF 35 vs FOR 27 Report Stats
BRU 31 vs HIG 18 Report Stats
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CRU 29 vs BLU 15 Report Stats
WAR 18 vs REB 16 Report Stats
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO 34 vs CHT 29 Report Stats
STO 15 vs BUL 13 Report Stats
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Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG 48 vs SHA 15 Report Stats
BRU 10 vs WAR 13 Report Stats
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU 41 vs FOR 24 Report Stats
HUR 29 vs CRU 23 Report Stats
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Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT 25 vs STO 17 Report Stats
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Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
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REB 42 vs BLU 22 Report Stats
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HUR 32 vs SHA 24 Report Stats
FOR 18 vs WAR 11 Report Stats
LIO 28 vs HIG 23 Report Stats
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Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
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RED 46 vs REB 29 Report Stats
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CHT 24 vs HIG 45 Report Stats
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CHT 17 vs LIO 40 Report Stats
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Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU 35 vs HUR 18 Report Stats
BRU 22 vs BUL 16 Report Stats
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SHA 25 vs REB 21 Report Stats
HIG 36 vs CHF 9 Report Stats
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STO 42 vs CHT 12 Report Stats
LIO 27 vs WAR 22 Report Stats
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Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR 56 vs HIG 20 Report Stats
FOR 20 vs BRU 33 Report Stats
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BLU 11 vs CRU 34 Report Stats
RED 3 vs CHF 24 Report Stats
CHT 33 vs WAR 58 Report Stats
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
STO 19 vs LIO 19 Report Stats
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Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
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REB 11 vs FOR 13 Report Stats
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