Black mood as French media struggles to find positives

Noir. That’s the word used by both Midi Olympique and L’Equipe in their Monday editions to describe France’s crushing defeat on Sunday at the hands of Ireland in Cardiff.

‘Black’ obviously has a double meaning, conveying not just the mood of French rugby fans at their side’s drubbing but also the colour of the shirts worn by Saturday’s quarter-final opponents.

The All Blacks will have little to fear from France, predicts L’Equipe, which says that losing to Ireland has “condemned Les Bleus to believe” that they can repeat their feat of 2007 and shock New Zealand in the quarter-final.

But L’Equipe doesn’t hold out much hope, former France captain Fabien Galthie telling the paper that Ireland “shattered the convictions” of the French with their domination up front.

Midi Olympique, France’s twice-weekly rugby newspaper, devotes 10 pages to the match and they are brutal in their analysis.

Describing the 24-9 defeat (France’s biggest losing margin to an Ireland side since the 25-6 loss in Dublin in 1975) as a “bitter disappointment“, Midi Olympique says Ireland were “ultra-dominant” in territory and possession.

Three of the Ireland pack — Sean O’Brien, Devin Toner and Nathan White — are selected in Midi Olympique’s World Cup XV of the weekend but the paper reserves its highest praise for coach Joe Schmidt who, it says, comprehensively out-thought Philippe Saint-Andre and ensured that Mathieu Bastareaud’s lack of pace and poor handling skills were cruelly exposed.

The France centre was at fault for the first-half break by Tommy Bowe, which should have led to the opening score if only Keith Earls had held on to the pass. Damien Traille, who won 86 caps for France and played in the 2011 World Cup final, is unstinting in his praise of Ireland, telling Midi Olympique: “When I watch this Irish side, I’ve the feeling that their all-round game is perfectly oiled.” Praising their organisation, initiative and timing, Traille singles out scrum-half Conor Murray as Ireland’s key player, for his authority and his service.

Away from the specialist sports titles, Liberation delivers a damning verdict on the French performance, telling readers that “Saint-Andre’s Bleus are world champions of destruction”. Not just destroying opposition players but destroying their rugby heritage and “the dreams of their public”. The paper notes with bitter irony that Bastareaud, “the symbol of this passive dissuasion” wept in the dressing room after the match.

Liberation has little sympathy for the France centre, and nor does Le Figaro, which laments the performance of Frederic Michalak, whose missed tackle on Rob Kearney led to Ireland’s opening try.

In contrast, Le Figaro was mightily impressed by Ian Madigan, describing Jonathan Sexton’s replacement as “la sensation”.

But as far as Midi Olympique is concerned the star of Sunday’s show was the Irish support. It describes the huge number of vocal Ireland fans as “probably the best on the planet” and says they created a “fantastic ambiance in the Millennium Stadium”. The paper continues: “Carried by 40,000 fervent fans, the Irish have reigned supreme in the Millennium, swapping red for green and creating one of craziest atmospheres ever seen at a rugby match.

“The high point was a ‘Fields of Athenry’ during a stoppage in the second half which was simply sublime.”

So the French press are unanimous: they were dominated by Ireland on and off the pitch in Cardiff.

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