Embattled French coach Philippe Saint-Andre has all but dismissed three woeful Six Nations campaigns telling AFP the reason he had taken the job was now on the horizon — the Rugby World Cup.
The 48-year-old former France wing and captain — who will stand down after the World Cup even if he delivers France their first ever trophy after three losing finalist appearances — said he could not wait to get started on the preparations with the 36-man squad beginning on Monday.
Saint-Andre, who will be replaced by veteran Toulouse coach Guy Noves, enters the World Cup hardly backed by great confidence in him guiding the French to glory at last.
He has struggled to impose himself since he took over and his record of just 15 wins in 37 games is the worst of any French coach.
“There is obviously a lot of impatience to get going,” said Saint-Andre.
“It is the beginning of a wonderful adventure which will lead to the World Cup.
“It has been three years that we have been waiting to be in this position: to put into motion firstly five weeks focused 65-70% on physique and 30% on individual technique, at Marcoussis and Tignes (July 15-25).
“Then there will be a second part, more rugby based, which will take us up to the two warm-up games against England (August 15 and 22); and finally the last bit of fine-tuning and reducing the squad to 31 before at last arriving at our first pool match (September 19 against Italy).”
Saint-Andre, who has attracted as much criticism if not more than his unpredictable predecessor Marc Lievremont whom he replaced after France narrowly lost the 2011 World Cup final, said his first target was to finish top of a pool which also features Six Nations champions Ireland, whom France have failed to beat during his tenure.
“The objective definitely is to top the pool,” said Saint-Andre.
“But first things first we are going to prepare well.
“Take one step at a time. It is imperative to live fully this period of preparation and not to look ahead with too much anticipation.
“This is an exceptional experience, these are privileged moments in the life of a top level player.
“I had the good fortune to experience two as a player (in 1991 and 1995), but since then the book has been closed and I can’t wait to be start a new chapter on July 6.”
Saint-Andre, who said he would try and use as many of the 36 players at his disposal for the two England games before announcing his final squad, said that, now freed of the shackles of the players’ clubs interfering with their preparation, like during the Six Nations, they could enjoy a proper uninterrupted preparation.
“The way our rugby is structured with the players paid by the clubs and not the federation means that aside from this spell we have to normally train at high speed,” said Saint-Andre.
“This time round the players have had a real pahse of recharging the batteries and we are going to do our utmost to optimise their physical potential.
“We are also going to work on our strategy, the style of play, and to create an osmosis both on the field of play and off it.
“It is very important to to create a solidarity, to create a real identity because a World Cup is also a formidable adventure on the human front.
“One has to have a spirit that is above reproach because we are practising a combat team sport.
“We have a group of great guys, competitors, a good balance between youth, players reaching their peak and the more experienced ones.
“It is up to us to prepare them so that French rugbyand the supporters can be proud of us.”
Saint-Andre, who has used his grandfather who was executed by the Nazis for his resistance activities during World War II as a role model of sacrifice and devotion to his country for his players, said that the focus would not just be on rugby during the preparations.
“This preparation is the only spell when we will have the time for activities outside of rugby and sports,” said Saint-Andre.
“It is really important to sew this squad together as they are going to spend four months together and for that they must be both physically and mentally strong.” – Agence France-Presse