Rugby-Saint-Andre relieved as French dodge whitewash

DUBLIN, March 9 Sat Mar 9, 2013 9:06pm GMT

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DUBLIN, March 9 (Reuters) - France coach Philippe Saint-Andre was a relieved man on Saturday after his side avoided a first championship whitewash in more than 50 years by drawing their Six Nations match with Ireland 13-13.

Narrow favourites before the tournament began, France made their worst start since 1982 with three defeats in their first three games, including an opening-day loss in which they were thoroughly outplayed by lowly Italy.

Louis Picamoles' late try on Saturday gives them the chance of avoiding their first last-place championship finish since 1999 and, more importantly for Saint-Andre, it means they cannot now replicate the French side of 1957 by losing every championship game.

"At least we will not play for the wooden spoon next week," Saint-Andre told a news conference, referring to the French meaning of the wooden spoon as a championship whitewash, rather than just a bottom-of-the-table finish.

"We are very disappointed with our Six Nations, we are very disappointed but we changed nearly 70 percent of the team since the World Cup so this team needs to learn.

"This Six Nations is hard, it's tough but we showed a lot of character, a lot of commitment in the second half to come back and come back very strongly. We just need to be much more precise."

Just as November's 33-6 win over Australia made France understandably optimistic coming into this year's Six Nations, an impressive victory over Argentina raised hopes that Ireland could put last year's disappointing championship behind them.

Defeats already against England and Scotland means Declan Kidney's side can now, at best, equal last year's tally of five points and captain Jamie Heaslip said Saturday's draw was another case of a match that got away from them.

"That's been the feeling for the last three games to be honest," Heaslip said. "There's a little bit of frustration there...It's a bit of a hard one right now to take."

Missing Paul O'Connell, Jonathan Sexton, Gordon D'Arcy, Tommy Bowe and Stephen Ferris, Kidney said he had never gone through a campaign with so many injuries but that he would not complain even as the list grew longer on Saturday.

Replacement scrumhalf Eoin Reddan broke his leg and will be out for three months while Donnacha Ryan, Peter O'Mahony, Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Marshall and Conor Murray were all left nursing knocks ahead of next weekend's final game in Italy.

"Everybody else is pretty good," Kidney said to laughter among reporters at the post-match news conference. (Editing by John Mehaffey)

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