France looking to end season on a high

The summer may have ended in shame and disaster for France’s football team but the country’s rugby players are determined to end their season on a high with a win over Argentina on Saturday.

It has been a long season for France’s top players who won the Six Nations Grand Slam before Toulouse and Biarritz went on to battle it out for the European Cup in the final in Paris last month.

This tour has already seen them suffer the same fate as their footballing cousins, defeat at the hands of South Africa. The 42-17 defeat in Cape Town gave evidence of a battle-weary group and it is this fatigue at the end of a long season which is worrying them most.

Their preparation has not been helped by illness striking the team with fly-half David Skrela and winger Aurelien Rougerie both ruled out of the tie after coming down with gastroenteritis.

“It is always the case at the end of the season. It is always difficult to find a cohesion. Bodies are tired, the players are weary and that is entirely understandable,” said coach Marc Lievremont.

The last two seasons show a marked contrast in fortunes when it comes to France’s summer tours.

In 2009, France didn’t have such a great Six Nations, winning three and losing two of their fixtures, and the French clubs had a rough time in the European Cup, only Toulouse making it through to the quarter-finals.

France followed that with a tour down under which saw them notch up their fourth ever victory in New Zealand, stunning the All Blacks 27-22 in Dunedin.

This season, the reverse appears to be the case with the Grand Slam followed by French clubs dominating in Europe, not to mention a long and gruelling Top 14 which was capped by Clermont’s victory in the final over Perpignan.

Two weeks later, a French side packed with players from Toulouse, Clermont and Perpignan bit the dust in Cape Town.

“Last season, the frustration of a bad Six Nations, the frustration of a poor European Cup meant the players who went on the tour were hungry to make up for that,” said Lievremont.

“This year, there is a lot more tiredness and that has taken us back a bit.”

Captain Thierry Dusautoir, the workhorse in the back row whose battery never appears to fade, admitted that the players were not mentally prepared for the tour.

“At one time, we had the idea that our work was done. This tour was not a priority in everyone’s head. But that doesn’t rule out that there is always a minimum that any French team must achieve,” he said.

Dusautour underlined the problems facing the modern player by pointing out that the 2009-10 season began on August 15 and will end on June 26 -10 months of hard grind.

The players, though, are conscious of the responsibility that comes with the privilege of wearing the blue jersey and intend putting in one last effort against an Argentine side that is going into the Test on the back of two defeats at the hands of Scotland.

“We took a beating in South Africa. Last Friday we beat Argentina A (37-14) without ever necessarily dominating,” says prop Fabien Barcella.

“It is vital that we get a win on Saturday, never mind how we do it. Without the victory, there will be some doubt about our season.”

The nature of the defeat in Cape Town has seen Lievremont make seven changes to the side, four in the backs and three in the pack.

He is hoping that they can inject the pace and energy needed to end the season on a high.

“It would be a shame if we can’t limit it to this defeat against the Springboks in what has been a very good season for the France”, said Dusautoir.

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