'We are brutal but we are not stupid... we are very clever in everything we do'
Thomas Castaignede won two Grand Slams for France and is predicting the current players will defeat England and collect another in Paris on Saturday because the team is “brutal but we are not stupid” which makes them immune to the inevitable mind games Eddie Jones will employ in the build up to the final round of Guinness Six Nations matches.
Jones is facing another potentially damaging fifth placed finish in the championship a year out from the Rugby World Cup that France will host and wants this players to play with “a ferociousness, that will put them on the back foot.” Having battled for 78 minutes with 14 men after losing Charlie Ewels to a red card in the 32-15 loss to Ireland, England now face a French side that has established its credentials as World Cup favourites and a Grand Slam triumph would be a crucial affirmation of that status.
Castaignede believes that a combination of improved fitness, the unique talents of defence coach Shaun Edwards and the experience of coach Fabien Galthie and team manager Raphael Ibanez make France strong favourites for a significant victory over England.
On the pitch, the 54 cap former Toulouse and Saracens full-back has been impressed by the calm assurance of half backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack along with the goal kicking of Melvyn Jaminet, the full-back, while he describes the rest of the French team as being “12 back row forwards.”
Castaignede explained: “The number on the shirt doesn’t mean anything and we are brutal but we are not stupid. We are very clever in everything we do and the French team has never been as physically prepared as we are now and that is why we can cope with all the expectation. If you are not fit you cannot play the game you want – you can have the desire but you need the energy. We also have the brain and the desire.
“Watching the French team is now very attractive and we are so proud of the players and while I wouldn’t say we are entertaining; they fight so hard and the crowd wants to be behind them.
“Maybe we are more pragmatic and efficient and that is really important on the pitch. We have built something, started from the roots, and made a tree with solid base and this is just the start. We are a young team and we don’t want to win just one trophy and these guys want to write something special in the next five or ten years. It is not about just winning the tournament – it is bigger than that.
“England won the World Cup but that was away from home and we would be the first European team to win the Cup at home and I can see in the French team great qualities and they fight for each other. We have two players leading the team in Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont who are very confident under pressure and a very good kicker in Melvyn Jaminet and around them are 12 back row forwards. The guys are all so strong and Jonathan Danty could play hooker or back row and Peato Mauvaka can play centre even though he is a hooker and that is why we are so powerful.
“England played with heart against Ireland even with the red card and they resisted well for 65mins but the game will be at a different level against France who have the opportunity to win the Grand Slam. This is just the start of something and we have the chance to be very physical against England and if you pick any player in the French team and compare him with the England player, we are a small margin above them. We need to stay humble because anything can happen as we saw with the red card for England but we are very confident at the moment.
Castaignede made his France debut alongside Toulouse team mate Emile Ntamack and remembers watching young Romain impressing as a teenage player for the French club’s junior team. Castaignede also played for France with Alain Penaud whose son Damian has been in brilliant form for the national team this season.
“I saw Romain when he was about four years old and then a played abroad (with Saracens) and then I came back and saw the Toulouse team – players were 15 or 16 – and I saw this young player running very elegantly, passing and kicking and I didn’t recognise him.” he recalled.” I thought “ this guy has something really special” and then I saw Emile on the touchline and realised it was Romain. I said to Emile “ is he always like this?” and he said he had been quite dominant since he was young. I am amazed by Romain being so controlled.
“I talked to Alain (Penaud) and he said his son was going to leave Brive because he wasn’t getting the opportunities and would be joining Clermont. Damian managed to find a club that gave him his chance and game after game he runs like a horse and no one can catch him. He is physically strong and always in the right place and has everything to be entertaining. He has played a lot at centre but they are playing him on the wing to give him more space and opportunity and it was a good decision.”
For Castaignede the make up of the current French management has been vitally important to help get the best out of so many brilliant young players and that is why he is so confident of victory on Saturday. He added: “Shaun Edwards never said hello to me when I played at Saracens but he doesn’t have an attitude it’s just that he is never happy and I like that. I am sure that even if we win the Grand Slam he won’t be happy with everything and it is amazing for the French team to have someone who is such a character – a different personality. He doesn’t have to speak much French because it is attitude and together with our physical trainer, they have changed this French team.
“Raphael and Fabien were both leaders on the pitch. I spoke to Fabien who is technically a very good coach and he realised he was made for international rugby because he is very intense. From the day he arrived everything changed and Fabien realised he needed some help and Raphael couldn’t be in Fabien’s position and Fabien couldn’t be in Raphael’s and together they bring something special to the French team
“I like Eddie Jones who was one of the greatest coaches for me in my career, but on Saturday it will be a special day for French rugby and a special result. Not a win by a single score but we can do something very strong.”
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