Seeing may be believing, but the eyes tell lies, too.
On the surface yesterday, everything looked hunky dory for France.
Half-a-dozen players sat for up to an hour chatting amiably with a sizeable media corps that drifted around and filled their boots with quotes like a contestant would a trolley in a supermarket sweep.
Their training base, a facility belonging to the Trinity School for Boys, was bathed in splendid late-September sunlight which had Frederic Michalak in a light sweat as he stayed back for kicking practice and Mathieu Bastareaud looking up to the skies in near wonderment.
“It’s good,” he laughed. “The one time it’s not raining in England. Wales beat England. Perfect.”
The minor diplomatic incident over their Croydon lodgings has abated, but concerns over the stutters of Philippe Saint-Andre’s side in their opening two matches against Italy and Canada are giving rise to growing murmurs of discontent among the press and back home.
A story yesterday in L’Equipe, the national sports daily, detailed the wealth of exciting backline play witnessed thus far in the World Cup, but lamented the fact that France have been responsible for so little of it. Who’s fault is it, the piece asked.
“Not everybody in France is with us so we say we are … alone? Alone,” said Bastareaud. “We started the fourth of July with our preparation and we will finish together.
"What the French people say, the media, we don’t care. We have just to be focused on us and what we do.”
Their struggles have been compared unfavourably with the smooth manner in which Ireland have put Canada and Romania to the sword, even if the latter fronted up at Wembley on Sunday on the back of just three days rest having opened their account against the French.
“The game against Romania wasn’t perfect, but it is important for the team that all the players play and that happened against Romania,” said Bastareaud who was one of 13 players to drop out of the XV that day as Saint-Andre juggled his resources.
“Now we know we didn’t play so good, but we work at the training and we know we have a big occasion, first against Canada.
“We need just to be focused, play our rugby and just think to play with pleasure for us. After that we will think about Ireland.”
Saint-Andre is likely to usher the majority of his preferred starting side, most of which got their tournament underway on day two against Italy at Twickenham, back in for the meeting with Canada and that likely means Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana starting in midfield.
France were solid rather than spectacular against Italy, their two tries rumbling efforts from a pair of props, and their first half against Romania had their head coach incandescent with rage at the interval.
That said, they have shown glimpses of their abilities on both evenings. As ever, it is an inability to do so consistently that holds them back, but Bastareaud believes that the French can find it within themselves to conjure a performance of grace and might and one very much at odds with much of the last four years.
As they have done so often before.
“It will be hard, but we need to be more confident and believe in us (as a team). We saw before we can do the impossible so, yes, we can beat New Zealand or Australia but we need to be at our best and get back to enjoying our rugby.
“All the time we win one or two games and then lose a match. It’s not good for the confidence. We need to win a string of matches because that will lift the morale of the team. We start with England at home, after Scotland, Italy, Romania, I hope Canada and after maybe ... Ireland.”
Saint-Andre said before the tournament that he wanted his players to play rugby with a smile on their face. It looks a big ask right now though Bastareaud, a man whose quiet and calm demeanour off the pitch changes utterly once he enters it, is determined to do just that.
“Yes, because I feel like a lucky man to be here. This is my first World Cup and it may be my last,” he says with another infectious laugh.
“We don’t know in four years if we will be in Japan so we need to be happy to be here and enjoy the moment.”
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