FRENCH PERSPECTIVE: ‘DEFEAT IS FORBIDDEN’

Rugby Union - 2017 RBS Six Nations Championship - England vs. France Dejected Frenchman Louis Picamoles after the match at Twickenham. FOTOSPORT/ANDREW COWIE

by COLIN RENTON

IN a departure from tradition, France will take the field against Scotland on Sunday in shirts bearing an advertisement. However, it seems that the French Federation is taking a modest step towards commercialising the kit, with the logo for this match a message in support of the country’s candidature as host nation for the 2023 World Cup rather than a company logo. 

Coach Guy Novès appears to have followed a similarly cautious route in making only one change to the side that started in the opener against England. Loann Goujon, the 27-year-old Bordeaux-Bègles flanker, replaces Damien Chouly, linking up with Louis Picamoles and Kévin Gourdon to form a powerful back-row.

Novès has also made two changes on the bench, where Christopher Tolofua and Julien Le Devedec replace Clément Maynadier and Arthur Iturria respectively, as France bid to win at the Stade de France for the first time in a year – a single point victory over Ireland last February having been followed by defeats against Australia and New Zealand (the win over Samoa came in a match played in Toulouse). Indeed, he has achieved only four wins in 11 starts since taking the helm.

The coach, who was formerly in charge at Toulouse, will renew a rivalry with his Scotland counterpart Vern Cotter who currently holds the upper hand in head-to-head clashes between the duo, with a 12-8 tally of wins from his days at Clermont Auvergne.

Novès has great respect for Cotter, whose work he praised, stating that the Scots are the model he wants to replicate.

“Where there are similarities is in our spirit. They have had one or two difficult years but they are now reaping the fruits of what Vern has sown,” he said. “They are a very organised group. You get the feeling that it’s a team capable of being innovative. They are ahead of us and they are a good example.”

While Novès may believe that his side are behind the Scots at present, one of his predecessors was less circumspect in his comments ahead of Sunday’s clash. Bernard Laporte, who is now the president of the French Federation, said of Les Bleus: “They are going to win, I am convinced of that. The French team is heading in the right direction. There were lots of encouraging aspects against England. You can never be happy – and me more than anyone – when you lose.”

“But I saw the team before the game and I have seen them again at Marcoussis (the French headquarters) and they are very tight. I told them that I wasn’t there to judge them, that that was up to the coach and the players. But we are all in the same boat and that boat will dock in 2019. Before then we make a few stops and we just have to win as often as we can. And after Sunday we have to still be able to hope that we can win this Six Nations.”

That view was echoed by winger Noa Nakaitaci, who will become a team mate of Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw at Clermont next season.

“We are having fun and we feel more free,” he said of the style Novès has implemented. “One day, all our work will pay off. But we are trying to forget about that and just think about Scotland. The tournament has just started and we can still win it.”

The coach has admitted that he was furious at the nature of the defeat at Twickenham and has demanded fewer errors this time out. Nakaitaci has acknowledged that fact and concedes that there is greater expectation against the Scots.

“There is always pressure,” he admitted. “But it’s special this week. Defeat is forbidden, you have to win at home.”

Another player feeling the stress is prop Cyril Baille, who added: “I always try to put myself under as little negative pressure as I can. But we do have our backs to the wall. We really don’t want to disappoint the public who are on the whole supportive. So, not only can we not lose, but we also have to produce a big performance.”

France team to play Scotland at Stade de France on Sunday 12th February 2017 (kick-off: 3pm GMT) –

S Spedding; N Nakaitaci, R Fickou, G Lamerat, V Vakatawa; C Lopez, B Serin; C Baille, G Guirado©, U Atonio, S Vahaamahina, Y Maestri, L Goujon, K Gourdon, L Picoles. Subs: C Tolofua, R Slimani, X Chiocci, J Le Devedec, D Chouly, M Machenaud, JM Doussain, Y Huget.

About Colin Renton 210 Articles
Colin has been a freelance writer on various subjects for more than 20 years. He covers rugby at all levels but is particularly passionate about the game at grass roots. As a fluent French speaker, he has a keen interest in rugby in France and for many years has reported on the careers of Scots who have moved across the Channel. He appreciates high quality, engaging writing that is thought provoking, and hopes that some of his work fits that bill!