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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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Super Rugby 2015

Round 1
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
View All Fixtures
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
BUL 13 vs HUR 17 Report Stats
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
View All Fixtures
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
View All Fixtures
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
View All Fixtures
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
View All Fixtures
Round 6
Fri, 20 MarTimes shown AEDT
HIG 13 vs HUR 20 Report Stats
REB 16 vs LIO 20 Report Stats
Sat, 21 MarTimes shown AEDT
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
View All Fixtures
Round 7
Fri, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
HUR 36 vs REB 12 Report Stats
RED 17 vs LIO 18 Report Stats
Sat, 28 MarTimes shown AEDT
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
View All Fixtures
Round 8
Fri, 03 AprTimes shown AEDT
HUR vs STO 18:35WS
REB vs RED 20:40AAMI
Sat, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
CHF vs BLU 18:35WS
BRU vs CHT 20:40GIO Stadium
Sun, 05 AprTimes shown AEDT
SHA vs CRU 01:00Growthpoint Kings Park
LIO vs BUL 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 9
Fri, 10 AprTimes shown AEST
BLU vs BRU 18:35EP
Sat, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HIG 18:35AMI
WAR vs STO 20:40AS
FOR vs CHT 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 12 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO vs SHA 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
BUL vs RED 04:10Loftus Versfeld
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Round 10
Fri, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs CHF 18:35AMI
Sat, 18 AprTimes shown AEST
HUR vs WAR 15:30WS
HIG vs BLU 18:35FBS
BRU vs REB 20:40GIO Stadium
FOR vs STO 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 19 AprTimes shown AEST
SHA vs BUL 02:05Growthpoint Kings Park
CHT vs RED 04:10FSS
View All Fixtures
Round 11
Fri, 24 AprTimes shown AEST
CHF vs FOR 18:35WS
BRU vs HIG 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
CRU vs BLU 18:35AMI
WAR vs REB 20:40ANZ
Sun, 26 AprTimes shown AEST
LIO vs CHT 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
STO vs BUL 04:10DHL Newlands
RED vs HUR 17:05SS
View All Fixtures
Round 12
Fri, 01 MayTimes shown AEST
HIG vs SHA 18:35FBS
BRU vs WAR 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs FOR 16:30EP
HUR vs CRU 18:35WS
REB vs CHF 20:40AAMI
Sun, 03 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs STO 02:05FSS
BUL vs LIO 04:10Loftus Versfeld
View All Fixtures
Round 13
Fri, 08 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs RED 18:35AMI
REB vs BLU 20:40AAMI
Sat, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR vs SHA 18:35WS
FOR vs WAR 20:40nib Stadium
Sun, 10 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO vs HIG 00:00Emirates Airlines Park
STO vs BRU 02:05DHL Newlands
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Round 14
Fri, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs BUL 18:35EP
RED vs REB 20:40SS
Sat, 16 MayTimes shown AEST
HUR vs CHF 18:35WS
WAR vs SHA 20:40AS
Sun, 17 MayTimes shown AEST
LIO vs BRU 02:05Emirates Airlines Park
CHT vs HIG 04:10FSS
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Round 15
Fri, 22 MayTimes shown AEST
CHF vs BUL 18:35Rotorua International Stadium
RED vs SHA 20:40SS
Sat, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HUR 18:35Emirates Airlines Park
WAR vs CRU 20:40ANZ
FOR vs HIG 22:45nib Stadium
Sun, 24 MayTimes shown AEST
CHT vs LIO 02:05FSS
STO vs REB 04:10DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 16
Fri, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
CRU vs HUR 18:35Trafalgar Park
BRU vs BUL 20:40GIO Stadium
Sat, 30 MayTimes shown AEST
SHA vs REB 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
HIG vs CHF 18:35Rugby Park
FOR vs RED 20:40nib Stadium
Sun, 31 MayTimes shown AEST
STO vs CHT 02:05DHL Newlands
LIO vs WAR 04:10Emirates Airlines Park
View All Fixtures
Round 17
Fri, 05 JunTimes shown AEST
HUR vs HIG 18:35McLean Park
FOR vs BRU 22:00nib Stadium
Sat, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
REB vs BUL 16:30AAMI
BLU vs CRU 18:35EP
RED vs CHF 20:40SS
Sun, 07 JunTimes shown AEST
CHT vs WAR 00:00FSS
STO vs LIO 02:05DHL Newlands
View All Fixtures
Round 18
Fri, 12 JunTimes shown AEST
BLU vs HIG 18:35EP
REB vs FOR 20:40AAMI
Sat, 13 JunTimes shown AEST
BRU vs CRU 16:30GIO Stadium
CHF vs HUR 18:35Yarrow Stadium
WAR vs RED 20:40AS
Sun, 14 JunTimes shown AEST
BUL vs CHT 02:05Loftus Versfeld
SHA vs STO 04:10Growthpoint Kings Park
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Round 19
Fri, 19 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
Sat, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
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Round 20
Fri, 26 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
Sat, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
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Round 21
Sat, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
7 vs 7 10:00
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Team P W L D +/- Pts
Hurricanes 6 6 0 0 85 27
Brumbies 6 4 2 0 73 20
Sharks 7 4 3 0 11 19
Chiefs 7 5 2 0 46 24
Bulls 6 4 2 0 24 18
Waratahs 6 4 2 0 36 18
Highlanders 6 4 2 0 22 20
Stormers 6 4 2 0 15 16
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