France desperate for pain relief

No wonder the Marquis de Sade was a Frenchman.

France desperate for pain relief

One moment taking pleasure in inflicting pain on those around, the next wallowing in delighted misery at pain others are inflicting on him.

Rather like the French rugby team. And the French rugby public.

The French are in torment at the moment, the ecstasy of the high of a last-gasp win against the English at the Stade de France in the opening round of the Six Nations now giving way to communal self-flagellation after a limp defeat in Cardiff and the unconvincing win in Edinburgh last week.

On Monday, sports daily L’Equipe splashed its front page with a picture of a glum looking Philippe Saint-Andre beneath the headline: “Who is directing the French team?”

On Tuesday, the former France scrum-half Guy Accoceberry launched an attack over the way Jean-Marc Doussain’s last-minute penalty won the match against Scotland. Wednesday’s issue saw a veiled attack on Pascal Papé: “A captain, what is that?” Meanwhile, barely a word about the fact that this much-maligned side might possibly snatch the title if they can beat Ireland and things go their way in Rome, where Italy host an England side that currently holds a 29-point advantage over the French.

“We are used to criticism,” says the mutton-chopped wing Max Médard, one of the more laid-back characters in the French set-up. “We work with you (the press) so we understand the way things go when it is not happening. It is frustrating though.”

Too frustrating for prop Nicolas Mas, who stormed out of Tuesday’s press briefing after a lengthy interrogation about failings of the French scrum.

Medard, though, is a cool operator. The fact that he has come back after a career-threatening knee injury sustained against Scotland in 2012 suggests he has gained a perspective on rugby. He lost his place in the starting line-up after the England game to make way for Hugo Bonneval but he was back in situ for the ugly win over the Scots. “I can’t explain the performance. It is very frustrating. But in the end, we won, so we have to let it go. And we have to take it in context. We lost our previous game in Wales badly and we shipped two early tries. So in that context, it was a good win.”

His fellow wing and Toulouse teammate Yoann Huget is almost as chilled. Barred from the 2011 World Cup after missing a series of doping tests, he has been one of the few unfettered triumphs of the Saint-Andre regime since his recall. Huget was the stand-out for France in last year’s desperately poor campaign and, having been moved from full-back out to the flank, he has again been a star performer. His instinct for the line caught England cold as he grabbed two tries in the 26-24 win in Paris. Last Saturday, it was his intercept just after half-time that brought France back into the match against the Scots.

“Scotland was very complicated,” he says. “After our performance in Wales, we had to be serious. The objective was the result, to win. At half-time we were 14-9 down, we had to ask ourselves how we were going to get out of this. In the end it was a last-minute penalty. But we won.”

Both wings know they and their teammates are going to have to improve to stop Brian O’Driscoll calling time on his international career with another Six Nations title.

“It is going to be very ‘warm’ against Ireland,” says Huget with a touch of understatement. “They are in a good place. They put in a fantasticperformance against the All Blacks in November. They are very impressive, especially with Sexton, O’Driscoll, the whole ensemble. They play like a club team, they know each other so well.”

Medard is equally flattering about Saturday’s guests, albeit with a hint of the old French confidence.

“We need to rise to another level against Ireland. For me, they have been the team of the tournament. But we are at home, in front of our public so we’re going to do everything to win.”

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