The pressure is on us. We had a tough time last year
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has admitted that the pressure is on him and the team to start winning after two poor Six Nations campaigns since he took over.
The 46-year-old former national captain, who was capped 69 times captaining them in 34 Tests, on Monday accepted that results under him since he replaced Marc Lievremont, when he stepped down after the 2011 World Cup Final after the All Blacks beat France 8-7, had been disappointing.
France finished fourth in the 2012 Six Nations and then finished bottom last year, mustering just a win at home over Scotland and eking out a draw with Ireland in Dublin.
Their overall record last year in all Tests was one of their poorest ever, two wins (Tonga being the other victory), a draw and eight defeats, while their performances lacked the flair associated traditionally with French teams, as they scored only 13 tries.
Saint-Andre said that there were reasons for those poor showings, for example trying out new players, losing older ones who retired after the World Cup being an example but that the time had now come to deliver.
Extra pressure is also on Saint-Andre because both Lievremont and his predecessor Bernard Laporte delivered the Six Nations Grand Slam in their third attempt.
"We are in an even-numbered year, with more home matches than away ones," said Saint-Andre, who was speaking from the team's training camp in Canet-En-Roussillon in south-western France.
"We finished bottom last year, and we want to do better, even to win it (the title).
"But then we wanted to win it last year, and also two years ago.
"We have a squad now that one hopes learnt a lot from last year. However, the apprenticeship is over and now it is crucial to get results and to perform."
Saint-Andre, affectionately nicknamed 'piglet' after his running style with his head down to the ground as a wing during his playing career, said he was hoping that the extra week to prepare for the opening match with England (Stade de France on February 1), as opposed to the eight days he had last year ahead of the Italy game in Rome, which they lost, would pay dividends.
"Of course this two week preparation period is simply realigning with the other countries, who have been doing this for a long time now," said Saint-Andre, who cut his coaching teeth at English side Gloucester before having spells with Bourgoin, back to England with Sale Sharks and finally Toulon.
"But the pressure is on us. We had a tough time last year, there is a lot of expectation from the public, but also we expect a lot of ourselves too.
"The pressure to produce results is what gets the adrenaline of the player and coach going.
"It is why the first match against England is important," he added.
Saint-Andre, who lost skipper Thierry Dusautoir for the whole tournament on Sunday because of a torn bicep, said he had not called up experienced scrumhalf Morgan Parra for the first game as he was not yet back starting matches after being absent because of injury.
"Morgan was still a replacement (Sunday's European Cup game between his side Clermont and Racing-Metro), he is still making his way back, and has not yet achieved his goal of being fully match fit.
"For the moment, we have Maxime Machenaud and Jean-Marc Doussain. We have confidence in both of them.
"The more Morgan plays, the more he will get back to his old level."
However, Saint-Andre did not rule out a surprise call-up for the 25-year-old Parra, who aside from his skills at scrumhalf has also contributed plenty of points with the boot for the national side in his 54 Test appearances.
"We will see," said Saint-Andre enigmatically.