Benjamin Fall’s early red card – rescinded by a World Rugby judicial committee 48 hours later – left Les Bleus a man light in the second Test against an All Blacks side who, to say the least, have had their number in recent years. At the Westpac Stadium in Wellington – a venue known as ‘The Cake Tin’ – the visitors were cooked after 12 minutes, eventually going down 26-13 to lose the series with a game to spare.
As if France’s losing streak against New Zealand was not bad enough, they have now been defeated in 14 of their last 16 away games. Once a perennial contender for the title, their last Six Nations success came eight years ago, when they secured Grand Slam glory with victory over England in the final round of matches.
However, according to former France coach Philippe Saint-Andre, there are signs of encouragement.
The green shoots of recovery may not be visible in terms of results on the season-ending tour to the reigning world champions, but the process of change is slowly happening behind the scenes. Finally, the French Rugby Federation and the Top 14 clubs appear to be reading from the same page.
For Saint-Andre, the willingness for both sides to work together for the good of France is a long time coming. While the domestic game – awash with money – has risen in standard, the influx of finance, and consequently overseas stars, has been to the detriment of the national team’s fortunes.
“Like the Premier League in England, our [French] league is so strong, contains so much money and is so long. It’s very difficult to get access to the players to prepare well for games.
“The clubs in the Top 14 need to play with more French players. We have started to realise that and we have some young players coming through with talent.
“When you have the French champions and only a few players from the starting XV are actually French, as was the case in previous seasons, that’s not a good thing for the national team.”
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) June 17, 2018
While Saint-Andre fears the partnership between clubs and country may not have arrived in time to revitalise France’s bid for Rugby World Cup 2019 glory in Japan, he is at least now far more upbeat over the long-term outlook.
There were further positive signs on Sunday when France won the World Rugby Under-20 Championship for the first time in their history, Les Bleuets’ 33-25 triumph over England in the final demonstrating the talent is coming through the system – now it just needs to have the chance to shine.
“For years the money was so big, our young talent didn’t get enough game time,” he added. “Our young players need to play.
“Money is important, but it’s not all that matters. If you want success, if you want a presence in the international game, these talented players have to be playing rugby.
“It is what we’ve started to do – to be honest, we should have done this 10 years ago. But the game grew so much, the television rights became huge and presidents of clubs with lots of money wanted to buy the best players from around the world.
“Now we realise it is the time to look again, to look after our national team. The clubs and the national federation now realise the need to work together. That was not the case five or six years ago.
“I do think the French team will grow again. Maybe not for the next World Cup, but maybe for the one after that we will be competitive again.”
— World Rugby Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) June 10, 2018
Having co-founded PSA Academies in 2015, Saint-Andre is focusing on developing the future of the game, as well as working in the media.
Yet having previously taken charge of Gloucester, Sale Sharks and Toulon, as well as a recent stint working with Cameroon, he is not ruling out a coaching comeback in the future – but only if he gets an offer that is simply too good to refuse.
“I’m coaching young players. Developing players is so important,” Saint-Andre said.
“I have PSA academies across Europe, and we open in the United States soon. We have young players from nine to 17 and are working with modern technology, as well as on their fitness and with different coaches.
“I also do some radio and television work, but I would never say no [to coaching again]. If I have a great opportunity to take a team, I would do it.
“But it has to be a great opportunity. I’ve said no to some projects, because when you’ve coached Toulon, Sale and France, it needs to be something quite exciting.”
While unsure of his own return to the professional game, Saint-Andre is more certain over France’s future. After a prolonged period in the doldrums, he believes Les Bleus may finally be on their way back.
Philippe Saint-Andre was speaking at the HSBC Paris Sevens on behalf of HSBC. The title sponsor of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series is working in partnership with World Rugby to reach new fans, support the growth of Rugby Sevens worldwide and fulfil their shared goal of helping the sport thrive in the long term.
Here’s Ali Williams on France’s chances:
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