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Rebuilding France’s rugby squad

Latest update : 2008-02-02

After a disappointing World Cup, the French rugby squad enters the Six Nations in search of a new identity, while keeping its sights firmly on 2011.

“We can’t ask a 21-year-old fly-half to show a perfect performance. There will be mistakes. That’s something we’re taking into consideration.” Those were the unconventional words of former French international player Marc Lièvremont, the newly appointed French coach, as he unveiled the list of players to play Scotland on Sunday, February 3.

But it’s not just about training a group of players to go and play a game in Edinburgh. The new staff in command of “Les Bleus” – Lièvremont and former international champions Emile Ntamack and Didier Rétière, who will be in charge of the backs and forwards respectively - aim to lay the foundations for a project which sees its outcome at the World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. “We’re preparing the squad for Scotland, but also for future competitions,” comments former France wing Emile Ntamack.

The aim of the new management is to revert to its attack-style strategy, a trademark of French rugby. The rough, defensive playing style adopted by the squad for the Rugby World Cup took a beating at the hands of Argentina and England and was dropped soon after.

The beginnings of this long-term project hold their fair share of risk and uncertainty, particularly since six of the players being prepared for the Scottish match have never been selected to join “Les Bleus”. Young players, like François Trinh-Duc, 21, not even a reserve in his Montpellier club a year ago. And not-so-young players, like Lionel Faure, 30, who plays for Sale in England.

Hard to tell how these beginners will perform; even harder to imagine how things will turn out for a squad that has only trained together four times.

“We need to strike a balance between risk-taking and results,” stresses Bernard Lapasset, president of the French Rugby Federation. The pressure to reform is piling up on the “XV de France”. On Jan. 31, fly-half Jean-Baptiste Elissalde told L’Equipe newspaper he was “expecting a very tough time at Murrayfield.”

Without Michalak or Chabal

Only five survivors of the World Cup semi-final carnage against England under former French coach Bernard Laporte will be trampling the grass of Murrayfield.

Emerging from preparatory training with the clubs of the Top 14 and the French Pro D2, the squad has turned the page on rugby legends Dominici, Ibanez and Pelous, now retired, as well as media icons Chabal and Michalak. Regarding the latter, Marc Lièvremont justifies his decision: “He’s a charming boy, but for us, Elvis Vermeulen (Clermont) is the best man for the position (number 8, editor’s note)

Vermeulen, temporarily out because of arm injury sustained in the World Cup, will not be the only one returning to the limelight at the Six Nations. 31-year-old Castres lock Lionel Nallet, eclipsed last autumn by “the Caveman” Sébastien Chabal, has been selected as the new team captain. Voted “best French international” by his peers, he will be leading them onto challenging terrain: Scotland, Ireland and England plan to apply the same formidable playing style in the tournament as they did for the World Cup.

Date created : 2008-02-02