Michalak adds composure to flamboyance as France shine
PARIS (Reuters) - Frederic Michalak added some Anglo-Saxon composure to his Gallic game to lead France to a rare hat-trick of November international wins which has helped Les Bleus secure a kind 2015 World Cup draw.
Flyhalf Michalak burst onto the scene during the 2003 World Cup although he was eventually overshadowed by Jonny Wilkinson who kicked England to the title.
Playing in South Africa with the Sharks has helped Michalak mix up his game and the 30-year-old, who was snubbed by Marc Lievremont for the 2011 World Cup, has become a very different player.
He is also another man having got married and now being a father.
"He scored the points and also made the team play and go forward. In the first two matches, he was creative. In the last one, he played as a good family man," France manager Philippe Saint Andre told reporters after Saturday's 22-14 win over Samoa.
Les Bleus dominated Australia, recording their second biggest win against the Wallabies as they prevailed 33-6 before overpowering Argentina 39-22.
They were less at ease against Samoa, conceding an early try before Michalak scored all but three of his team's points at the Stade de France.
The last three times France won all of their November internationals, Michalak was in the team and that may not be just a coincidence.
This November, Michalak scored 58 of France's 94 points in the three tests, with a successful kick percentage of 92 percent having slotted in 20 kicks from 22 attempts - including a couple of drop goals.
"New staff, new adventure. Maybe at some point I did not give the necessary effort to come back with the France team. It is a vicious circle. But then there were the Sharks and Toulon. It put me back on track," Michalak told reporters.
He also scored a try to help France stay in the mix after falling behind early against Samoa on Saturday and was named man of the match, just like against Australia.
"He's got everything. He is a versatile player. (In November) he has been precise, his kicking has been efficient and he brought us his experience," scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud told reporters.
"Even if it is a collective sport, he still scored a try on his own."
It was not all about Michalak, though.
The France "backbone" was superb, with fullback Brice Dulin and Machenaud showing they have what it takes to help Les Bleus to the next level.
Hooker Dimitri Szarzewski also showed solidity in taking over from the retired William Servat.
The team, which still has time to grow and turn the youngsters into seasoned international players, will avoid Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the first round of the next World Cup as they leapfrogged a disappointing England side into fourth place in the IRB rankings.
The draw will be made in London on December 3.
(Additional reporting by Jean-Paul Couret; Editing by Mark Meadows)
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