It was their coach four years ago. This time it is the media.
Yep, the French aren’t happy. Again. The beef with their press corps ahead of Sunday’s mouth-watering Pool D encounter against Ireland is cooking over what they believe is a tendency to build up Joe Schmidt’s men too much and talk down Les Bleus.
This is all obviously small potatoes compared to 2011, when the squad went into open revolt against then head coach Marc Lievremont after a pool defeat to Tonga, but it is less than ideal all the same and it has been building for some weeks now.
The non-story about their supposed dismay at staying in Croydon got things off to a bad start. Thierry Dusatoir expressed puzzlement and Yannick Nyanga tweeted a gushing photo about their palatial surroundings, but hey, first impressions and all that.
Then there was the reporter who made what turned out to be the cardinal error of taking coach Philippe Saint-Andre to task two weeks ago for his constant use of words like ‘battle’ and ‘combat’ when looking ahead to their game with Romania.
Rugby should be about skill and speed as well, the impassioned inquisitor suggested at one otherwise cordial press conference, earning for himself a thick coating in Saint-Andre sarcasm and the sort of icy glare that could freeze the warmest of hearts.
No one had pushed that button, it turned out, since a Six Nations game against England in 2013 and no one has dared play with it since, having witnessed the death stare. So you’ll not hear a debate on the finer points of France’s physicality from Saint-Andre this week.
They haven’t been great so far this World Cup. They know that. Benjamin Kayser, the Clermont hooker, was just the latest in a long line to admit that yesterday, but there was no mistaking the worry lines on the faces of French journalists when asked about their form this past few weeks.
That was before Ireland’s struggles with Italy, of course.
“We are alone,” Mathieu Bastareaud told this correspondent early last week when it was put to him that there was a distinct air of negativity trailing them through England, and that Nyanga and others picked up on that last week by themselves.
The Racing Metro 92 flanker, speaking to media after their defeat of Canada in Milton Keynes last Thursday, took his countrymen and women to task for the manner in which they had covered Ireland’s defeat of Romania the weekend before.
“We could not see the game because we were on the bus,” Nyanga said. “There we looked at the score on our phones. It was the same as ours — 44-10 as compared to France’s 38-11 — but it said that they were much better than us. It’s funny, no?”
Saint-Andre had much the same take, remarking that Ireland are “beautiful and tough and they play in green”, and it does seem that Ireland’s recent Six Nations successes and the fact they have not lost to France in four years has been playing on the minds of the French fourth estate.
Not for the first time, a debate about style has got France in a spin. Remy Grosso met the press in their Welsh base just outside of Cardiff yesterday lunchtime and found himself engaged in a debate about the no-frills approach favoured by Les Bleus. Saint-Andre would have seethed, but the journalists loved it.
A writer on one French website waxed lyrical about the France of the great Pierre Albaladejo in the 1950s and ’60s and Serge Blanco’s ‘try from the end of the world’ against Australia in the 1987 World Cup, but Grosso spoke of an evolving game and how physicality must come first.
“This match against Ireland is an opportunity to show people that, even if they don’t like what it is we are doing, it is effective,” said the 6’ 2”, 16-stone and more Castres wing who made his Test debut against Canada.
You get the feeling that, for France, Sunday can’t come soon enough.
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