PARIS, France, Feb 20 – France’s rugby squad — who have lost 10 of their last 13 games — are not a happy bunch of players and coaches to be around at the moment.
The negative atmosphere surrounding and within Jacques Brunel’s squad has only worsened with two straight defeats to open the Six Nations campaign, leaving glum faces and bleak expressions facing journalists.
Losing to Wales in the opening fixture despite leading 16-0 at half-time was followed a week later by France’s heaviest defeat to England since 1911.
Since Brunel took charge in December — heading into 2019, a World Cup year — his side has conceded an average of 34 points per game and have only scored more than 30 themselves on one occasion.
“On the field we are down, we have been taken down by the past and we might even fall again, I can’t predict what will happen,” number eight Louis Picamoles said.
“There are improvements to be made. Individually as players and collectively with the coaching staff,” centre Mathieu Bastareaud added.
“There’s no magic recipe, there’s no ‘it’s the player’ fault, it’s the coaches’ fault’. If we start looking at things on a personal level we will not manage to get out of it,” prop Jefferson Poirot added.
– Deja vu –
The humiliating 44-8 loss to England a fortnight ago brought back memories of the 62-13 quarter-final embarrassment at the hands of eventual champions New Zealand at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Picamoles started that game in Cardiff where France suffered the third heaviest defeat in their more than 100 years of Test rugby.
One criticism of this current French crop is a lack of leadership to help captain Guilhem Guirado after the influential figures of Thierry Dusautoir, Frederic Michalak and Pascal Pape retired.
“Having more leaders in 2015 than now is not something that jumps out at me from the squad. Maybe there were more experienced players,” he said.
“Maybe there were more experienced players before but I don’t think Guilhem has been as lonely as people from the outside have imagined,” he added.
Bastareaud came off the bench for the hammering four years ago and started the thumping in Twickenham.
He failed to see a change in the team since the loss in Cardiff.
“After a defeat like that it’s hard to say there’s been a big evolution,” he said.
“The communication was much less, everyone stayed on their own, thinking about certain things on their own,” the Toulon centre said.
– Responsibility for all –
One difference has been the introduction of a leadership group within the squad since November, a move that has been formalised since the humbling to England two weeks ago.
The eight-player committee includes Bastareaud, Poirot, scrum-half Morgan Parra, lock Felix Lambey, teenager Romain Ntamack, outside backs Gael Fickou and Yoann Huget, as well as Picamoles.
“It’s always hard to work in a squad of 30-odd men who all have different visions. This means we can have a tighter collection of players from all ages from almost every position to feedback on what matters most to us, what happens on the field,” Picamoles said.
“We all need to share the responsiblity. In the past, the responsiblity had always been on the coaching staff and the captain,” Poirot said.
Huget explained it was established not only as a reaction to the poor start to the Six Nations but also in preparation for the World Cup to be held in Japan between September and November.
“Why not put it in place earlier on? We had other things to manage. Firstly the Six Nations is now but we’ve also got a World Cup to get ready for,” Huget said.
Les Bleus host Scotland at a sold-out Stade de France on Saturday less than seven months from the start of the show-piece tournament in Tokyo.
To hold any hope of success in the Japanese autumn positive results must start in the Parisian spring.