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Saint-Andre sets the bar low

Thu, 23 Jan 2014 11:38
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I hope that statistic about the Lions tour can be right
Quote-end

France may have won the last four Six Nations Championships following a British and Irish Lions tour but coach Philippe Saint-Andre said that was no reason to expect similar success this season.

Warren Gatland, the coach of reigning Six Nations champions Wales, who led the combined Lions side to a 2-1 series win in Australia last year, has said the first round France-England match in Paris on February 1, could determine the destiny of the title.

"You're right in terms of France normally being the favourites [after a Lions tour] Gatland told reporters at the Six Nations launch in London.

"That opening game in Paris between France and England, that potentially could determine the result of this tournament," the New Zealander added.

But Saint-Andre was wary of the history that suggests this should be France's turn to win the Six Nations just as they did in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 following the four previous Lions tours.

And that's because in 2013 France had one of their worst years in recent times, winning just two out of 11 Tests and finishing bottom of the Six Nations table.

For former France captain Saint-Andre, a transformation form last to first in the space of a season, while welcome, would be almost too much to hope for.

"I hope that statistic about the Lions tour can be right again, but we cannot expect after our performance last year," Saint-Andre said.

"When the Lions finish late, in July, it is unusual for them and they play more games.

"But playing 40 games a year is nothing new for our players," he added of a France squad who all play their domestic rugby in the Top 14, arguably Europe's most gruelling national championship.

But Saint-Andre's biggest complaint about the Top 14 is the way in which wealthy club owners, in a quest for success, have filled their teams with overseas stars at the expense of French talent.

Saint-Andre is adamant the situation is now harming the national side to the extent they will enter the 2014 Six Nations without a single player who is the first-choice goal-kicker at their club.

Saint-Andre has seen the situation at first hand, having coached at big spenders Toulon, the reigning European champions, where he had no qualms about signing such foreign talent as Australia's Matt Giteau and Springbok star Bakkies Botha.

"I worked for Toulon and the chairman [millionaire publisher Mourad Boudjellal] is very ambitious. He said to me 'I want to win very quickly'. So I said 'OK, we'll sign Matt Giteau and Bakkies Botha'," Saint-Andre said.

"When you sign this type of player, you don't need five years before you get success. I worked in the Top 14, so I understand the pressures the coaches are under.

"But talented young French players are having to play in the second division to get any game time. The system needs to be improved.

"Toulon are a fantastic team...but in their last three games they only had three French players in their starting XV.

"It's unbelievable but 70 percent of the wings in the Top 14 are from Tonga, Fiji or New Zealand," added Saint-Andre, himself an outstanding wing in his playing days.

"We are in difficulty. The biggest problem is our kicker. None of our players are first choice kickers at their clubs.
"Maxime Machenaud is our kicker but is third choice for Racing Metro. This situation is a problem."

AFP

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