French determined to impress in the Pumas' Test
PARIS (AFP) –
France will be determined to show coach Philippe Saint-Andre against bogey team Argentina in Lille on Saturday that unlike their predecessors they can put together two impressive performances in successive tests.
Their 33-6 defeat of the Wallabies last Saturday – their first over them since 2005 – saw the French fulfill the first part of what Saint-Andre hopes will be three victories in November and assure themselves of one of the top four seedings for the 2015 World Cup draw in December.
However, Saint-Andre acknowledges the Pumas may present the stiffest of their three tests – they round off their campaign against Samoa on November 24 – and not just because of their poor record against the South Americans which has seen the Argentinians win eight of their last 12 encounters.
Argentina, who are a mix of hardened veterans and new blood brought in since last year’s World Cup, produced an impressive performance to defeat Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales 26-12 at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday.
All the more reason why former France captain Saint-Andre is looking to this French side to produce an unstereotypical performance in what will be the first rugby test played at Lille’s flashy new stadium.
“We want to see whether we’re able to win two very, very high-level matches in succession. It’s an enormous challenge for the staff and the players,” said the 45-year-old, who was capped 69 times from 1990-97.
“In French rugby we are used to producing great performances worth 18 out of 20 and to follow up with an eight out of 20.
“What we are aiming to do now is to be more consistent – to put in a good week’s training and not to get carried away. To reproduce the same physicality and the same realism.”
Saint-Andre, who first made his name as a coach in England with Gloucester where he had ended his playing career, is also at pains to keep the pressure off the mercurial fly-half Frederic Michalak, who symbolises the French habit of playing brilliantly one week and then mediocrely the next.
“Talk about other players, leave Frederic alone,” said Saint-Andre, who will again pair Michalak alongside Maxime Machenaud as the halfback partnership.
“He is working hard, he is hungry to continue to do so, we are keen to continue with Frederic but also Francois Trinh-Duc.
“It is absolutely essential to stop putting so much pressure on those that play at fly-half.
“There is a French culture which dictates that when one wins, the fly-half is the best player in the world and when one loses, it is time to burn his effigy.
“Frederic played well last week, and I am not going to put more pressure on him than that.”
While Saint-Andre made just one change to his starting line-up, with lock Yohann Maestri returning after recovering from a back problem, his Pumas counterpart Santiago Phelan made several.
He hands starts to both fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, who replaces injured fullback Juan Martin Hernandez, and Biarritz centre Marcelo Bosch comes in for the sidelined veteran Felipe Contepomi.
Both Amorosino and Bosch missed out on the Wales game as they were kept back for French club duty and both are more than able replacements for the injured duo.
The French will also have to be wary of the flying wing Juan Imhoff, who scored a try against the Welsh and created the other.
“It has been a long time, since Ignacio Corleto (now 34 and who played in three World Cups including 2007 where they finished third), since we have had a back like this,” said Racing-Metro coach and former Puma great Gonzalo Quesada.
“He creates fear in the opposing defence and is able to finish off his moves clinically.”