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Pressure grows as Saint-Andre seeks their first win

By Michael Sadlier

Published 10/10/2015

Tough test: members of the France sqaud in training for their vital World Cup clash against Ireland
Tough test: members of the France sqaud in training for their vital World Cup clash against Ireland

The French camp put on quite the show yesterday with coaches sitting around reading papers and all seeming well with the world. All that was missing was a few Gallic shrugs.

And then coach Philippe Saint-Andre stoked the fires, already lit by his players, by mentioning that all the pressure is on Ireland. It was an unusually deft touch from a coach who has so far failed to take France where they need to be but, as ever, with Les Bleus, nothing is entirely straightforward.

Over the years they have given the World Cup three of its most stunning games with Serge Blanco's incredible last-grasp try to beat Australia at the first tournament in 1987 right up there with the two seismic occasions when they put the All Blacks out in 1999 and 2007.

They have also made it all the way to the final three times - 1987, 1999 and four years ago - and yet have never got their hands on the prize. A case of bad luck striking thrice, or just an inability to play consistently? Take your pick.

Having said that, at the first World Cup they came up against a mesmerisingly good All Blacks side while their Herculean efforts to beat them in that thrilling semi-final in Cardiff 12 years later left the French a spent force for the final.

And as for 2011? They only galvanised themselves for the final where a combination of more courageous refereeing and rigorous preparation ought to have denied the All Blacks.

So, in many ways France have undone themselves. Four years ago much was made of the in-house disenchantment with then 'dead coach walking' Marc Lievremont. This time around and certain elements have not greatly altered.

Les Bleus have, almost traditionally, struggled to fully fire and though the squad isn't exactly at daggers drawn with the coach, Saint-Andre is still on his way at tournament's end when long-serving Toulouse supremo Guy Noves will get a crack at it.

So now to Ireland and in many regards all the pressure is on Saint-Andre as he attempts to plot his first win over them - at World Cups though the record reads three games and the same number of wins for France - in order to avoid that unpleasant looking quarter-final with Richie McCaw et al.

As ever, if they are allowed to play, France have the capability of destroying anyone though it would appear that they will have to counter Joe Schmidt's likely suffocating aerial bombardment to flourish.

With their scrum working well the French will also need to deal with Ireland's other likely plan of attacking off the lineout - whether via maul or bursts around the fringes - as will be bottling up Jonathan Sexton. There have been a few barbs thrown his way during the week, smashing the former Racing Metro player with more of those trademark Mathieu Bastareaud charges.

Contain Schmidt's presumed conservatism and structure through Sexton's play and then it's a case of shoring up the notoriously flaky Frederic Michalak and ensuring that the creative axis with Wesley Fofana is in good working order.

If Michalak is allowed to play, and is accurate, with the excellent Fofana at his shoulder, then Saint-Andre might get that first, and vitally important, win.

Belfast Telegraph

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