January 9, 2018 / 4:31 PM / in 9 months

Rugby - France turn to clubs to restore damaged reputation

PARIS - Less than a month before the start of the Six Nations, France face an almost impossible task in restoring their pride, but new coach Jacques Brunel hopes the national team can benefit from renewed collaboration with the country’s top clubs.

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - France vs Italy - Stade de France, Paris, France - 6/2/16. Italy's head coach Jacques Brunel reacts just before a Six Nations tournament match. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Years of tinkering under Philippe Saint-Andre and then Guy Noves, sacked last month, have plunged the previously flamboyant team into deep uncertainty.

From the 2015 World Cup fiasco to successive Six Nations failures, France’s reputation has been damaged, and with Argentina and England in their 2019 World Cup pool, a quarter-final appearance is not guaranteed.

While England have been relatively stable with Ben Youngs starting at scrumhalf and George Ford at flyhalf, France have tried countless halfback pairings without achieving cohesion.

Brunel, however, vowed to collaborate better with the Top 14 clubs to make sure only the fittest players are selected when France’s Six Nations campaign starts at home against Ireland on Feb. 3.

The Top 14 coaches and the France staff gathered on Monday and both parties described the meeting as very productive.

“Clubs have accepted that the France staff come and spend two or three days at the clubs,” said Clermont coach Franck Azema.

Club coaches will also be allowed to come to France training sessions. “We will talk about what we saw. It’s good if you want to improve. But we will not be on the field,” said Toulon manager Fabien Galthie.

“Beyond the four months of international competition, the question is: what are we going to build during the seven other months to restore the national team’s confidence?”, Azema added. Brunel, who led Perpignan to the French title in 2009, believes that both the clubs and the national team will benefit from the collaboration.

“We will immerse ourselves in the clubs to be in contact with the coaches,” he said.

“The idea is to work together, to share ideas and find solutions. We feel that there is a real desire to collaborate. We will try to help each other.”

As a result, the summer physical preparation at the National Rugby Centre (CNR) in Marcoussis set up by Noves will be dropped and the clubs will be again in charge of getting the players into shape during the off season.

“The clubs will be responsible for the physical preparation,” Racing 92 coach Laurent Travers confirmed.

“It’s a good initiative. We don’t have to agree on everything, but the fact that there is mutual trust is very good,” said Azema.

Reporting by Julien Pretot, Editing by William Maclean

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