Yoann Maestri: France are playing catch-up

France are playing catch-up on Europe’s best sides, according to second row Yoann Maestri.

Yoann Maestri: France are playing catch-up

France begin the reign of new coach Guy Noves on Saturday against Italy at the Stade de France, as they look to finish in the top half of the tournament for the first time in four years.

Toulouse star Maestri feels that France are starting from a low base.

“Our place isn’t at the top of European rugby,” he told AFP. “We’re a country that loves rugby, we have lots of players, but we’ve never been world champions.

“Sometimes we like to compare ourselves to other teams, but we’re always behind. Had we been world champions like England or Australia... But we’re still a country that aspires to do that.

“Our opponents have already started to move towards that (expansive) rugby, it’s up to us to work on it.

“We have to be honest. I won’t say we’re behind. But if you look at the World Cup, we’re behind them (Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland). Perhaps level with England.

“I took time (to recover from the New Zealand loss). But if I was traumatised, I wouldn’t be here. We need motivated guys. It’s a big challenge to come back, with younger players, a new coaching staff, and our current position.”

Meanwhile Dan Cole insists England’s misjudgement of tactics used at last autumn’s World Cup helps explain their failure at the tournament.

A long summer of gruelling conditioning sessions in which weight was shed in the belief it would require a high-tempo style to prevail at the global showpiece hampered the Red Rose, who failed to progress from the group phase.

Instead of relying on the set-piece game that has served England well in the past, Cole believes there was a change in emphasis that had far reaching consequences.

“For our overall gameplan I think we probably went away from being a set-piece team,” Leicester prop Cole said.

“Although we weren’t just a set-piece team, it did detract from that. That then knocked on through the team.

“We probably expected the World Cup to be a different game to what it was. We expected high ball-in-play time and a lot of running, when in actual fact it wasn’t. As players, we got caught out by that. But also it comes down to individual players.

“If we look back now on our set-piece the individual standards probably weren’t good enough — Fiji manned up against us, so did Australia.” In an attempt to improve individual standards, Eddie Jones has told his forwards they must spend less time on the floor.

Jones has had 10 days to work with his squad in preparation for Saturday’s against Scotland at Murrayfield and has used the time to outline his demands of players be believes are underachieving. Under the spotlight have been the work rate of the front row and the amount of time it takes England forwards to spring back on to their feet.

“Eddie’s fairly straight with what he says and he’s spoken to certain boys about getting better,” Cole said. “He wants boys in the front row to be involved in the game more than we have previously. So you do what he says.

“He wants the props to scrummage first, lift in the lineout second and tackle third. Basically it’s about not being out of the game for too long.

“He thinks the English spend a lot time on the floor, so he wants us back in the game, which you have to be in today’s game, especially since it’s the Six Nations and there are decent pitches.

“As an English forward you understand the tradition of the English game, which is the set-piece game.

“Eddie mentions the 2003 World Cup side — it was built around the scrum, the maul and the set-piece. Eddie wants this team to be built like that as well.”

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