Philippe Saint-Andre believes France’s hopes of dragging themselves back up the World rankings could be undermined by the dreadful season captain Guilhem Guirado and Mathieu Bastareaud are enduring with Toulon.
France, currently ranked a lowly ninth in the World, start their Guinness Six Nations fixtures at home to Wales on February 1 and are in desperate need of a strong campaign before facing a daunting World Cup where they are in the same pool as England, Argentina, Tonga and the USA.
The demise of Toulon, a club Saint-Andre used to mastermind, is a real worry with the big spending outfit lying 11th in the Top 14 and were dumped out of the European Champions Cup in the pool stage. Saint-Andre, the former France captain and head coach at the 2015 World Cup in England, said: “Toulon is a mystery and it is a worry because we have the captain Guilhem Guirado and Mathieu Bastareaud the vice-captain, who are both key players for France.
“When you look at the season for both of them then they have not won many matches for Toulon or France. The losing percentage is very high and it is means they are not in a good positive position and do not have the winning habit. Toulon is in a transition year having lost a lot of players and need to rebuild with young players. It will take them some time to get back to the top.”
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France are currently just one above Argentina in the World rankings thanks to their shock 21-14 loss to Fiji in Paris in the final November test match. France have made at least the quarter-finals of every World Cup and have been losing finalists on three occasions but there is a real danger they could fail to get out of their pool in Japan.
Saint-Andre left the French head coach role in the wake of a 62-13 thrashing by eventual champions New Zealand in the last eight and admits France need all the help they can get in Japan. He believes that could come in the form of Argentina’s decision to continue to ignore many of their European players.
He told RugbyPass: “ When you look at the recent results of the teams then you think that it will be England first in the pool and then France but anything can happen at a World Cup and just look at 2015 when the English at home did not make the quarter-finals. France will play three warm up games for the Cup and then there is the problem of injuries with such a long Top 14 season and so the reality of now and the reality in eight months means it is very difficult to predict what will happen.
“Let’s be honest here. We are ninth in the World and we haven’t had consistency for six or seven years. When you look at the French team’s record you have to ask can we win six games in a row at a World Cup? But, I feel we can beat some good teams in the Six Nations and then in the World Cup we can qualify for the quarter-finals and I don’t believe we are going to be facing the kind of Argentina that made the semi-finals of the 2015 Cup in England.
“In the last couple of seasons they have lost around 80 per cent of their games including to France in November. The big question for me is will Argentina continue with the policy of not picking all of their guys in England and France? It will be tough for Argentina unless they change the rules for the World Cup because it would make their squad much better because there are some great players in the Top 14 and in England as well.
“If Argentina only use the players who are operating at home then they will struggle at the World Cup with the depth of players. If you are playing every four or five days against teams like England, France, Tonga and the USA then it is very tough. There aren’t easy games and so it is vital to have depth and quality and that means more than 30 good players not just 15.”
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