FRANCE centre Mathieu Bastareaud believes a Grand Slam is now top of their agenda after Saturday’s 33-10 victory over Ireland in Paris.
The 21-year-old, who put in an impressive performance opposite Brian O’Driscoll, was upbeat about France’s Six Nations title chances after an emphatic win in Paris.
“The Grand Slam is the objective, as it is for any team,” said Bastareaud. “The result puts us in a good position. After that we’ll go back to our clubs for a week of rest. I think Saturday’s match was reminiscent of last year’s game against Wales. We didn’t let anything go and kept the faults down to a minimum. Of course we’re pleased but there is still a long way to go.”
France’s display came as no shock to Bastareaud despite Les Bleus struggling to find consistency under coach Marc Lièvremont in recent years.
“I don’t think this performance was too much of a surprise,” he added. “After all, we played pretty well against Scotland and we took those positives into this game. We were concentrating on reducing our faults as we were penalised quite a lot in Murrayfield last week so that was a focus for us.
“Our tackling and contact area work was better this week. We were much more adventurous in the backs and we felt better as a group in both attack and defence. Overall we played well defensively and took our attacking chances when we had them. We chose the right game plan for the match.”
Bastareaud’s team mate Morgan Parra felt denying Ireland a score just before half-time was the game’s turning point.
“The key point was probably when we stopped them from scoring before half-time,” noted the young scrum half. “To withstand that level of pressure and come away with the ball was great for us. Had they scored, they would have been right back in it.”
Parra claimed he enjoyed an easier ride at scrum half than anticipated, something that Declan Kidney and forwards coach Gert Smal will be keen to iron out before the England match in a fortnight’s time.
He added: “The game was very different to last week’s match. Scotland were more competitive in the contact area so Francois (Trinh-Duc) and I got a lot more clean ball than in the last match. Playing against 14 men for 10 minutes was also very significant. We still have work to do. Obviously winning is very important for us, but we need to turn the page and start looking ahead to the game against Wales.”
Lièvremont believes his country’s strength in depth could prove crucial in their bid to land the title.
“We have a lot of injuries but one of the reasons we came up with a group of 30 to 40 players was to enable us to have quality players coming out of the bench,” he said. “How many countries could maintain the same level with a high number of injuries?”
After constantly changing his half-backs, Lièvremont looks sure to stick with Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra following their outstanding efforts against Ireland.
But Lièvremont was equally delighted with his pack, which created the position for William Servat, Yannick Jauzion and Clement Poitrenaud to score tries.
Skipper Thierry Dusautoir, who was horrified to discover that it was he who accidentally poked his fingers in the eye of team-mate Imanol Harinordoquy early in the game, admitted the forwards took their game to new heights against the Irish.
“The French scrum has been producing some great performances this past month or so,” he said. “When we played against the All Blacks maybe we were even more powerful but we were not as smart. Tonight we tried to play both ways and that is what made it a great satisfaction.
“We gave away less fouls and were very patient, which was very satisfying, especially when we know how important that is at international level.
“It put a lot of pressure on the Irish team and we managed to maintain that momentum throughout the game.”
With Ireland out of the way, France must now turn their focus on Wales, their next opponents on Friday week, and Lièvremont is looking for further improvement in a bid to reverse the 29-12 loss they suffered on their previous visit to the Millennium Stadium in 2008.
“The most difficult game is always the one coming up, especially since the French press always tell us how difficult it is to win three games in a row,” he said. “It won’t be easy in Cardiff. The players know it’s going to be very difficult.”
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