June International Tours

French reserves rested and ready

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France arrived in New Zealand on Monday with a severely depleted squad, tired from a tense day of action in the final round of the Top 14, and with a coach openly admitting he wishes to be somewhere else.

Bernard Laporte answered opening questions from journalists about the ill-timed tour – which coincides with the semi-finals and final of the Top 14, thus depriving Laporte of nearly an entire squad’s worth of international players – as candidly as ever, saying: “We did not want to come, but we must come.”

The squad had a long day on Monday, doing everything possible to avoid sleep until the evening, including a football match in their training grounds.

One member who has had an extraordinary three days is centre Jean-Philippe Grandclaude, who has been out of the international reckoning for a while now, and whose Perpignan team failed at the last to get to the Top 14 semi-finals on Saturday. Emotions have been mixed for the centre, who is still clinging on to his outside chance of a Rugby World Cup spot.

“All the pressure of the Top 14 is behind us and now we have to get ourselves in gear for two final weeks of the season in New Zealand. It’s a good feeling,” he replied to Le Site when asked about his frame of mind.

“There was a lot of emotion on Saturday – as well as not qualifying for the semi-finals there were some players, greatly treasured by the club, who were playing their final match. Now we are in New Zealand, we can concentrate on the French team.”

There is not one rugby fan who does not believe the French tourists are in for a hiding, but being as the New Zealand team gave the full-strength French a hiding in France back in November, Grandclaude reckons this team has nothing to lose.

“Yes, it is obvious there is some apprehension. But even if the team was full-strength, there would have been apprehension,” he said.

“We have to try and play without complexity, because we have a lot to learn. In a good state of mind, we can worry the All Blacks a little.”

“It’s a huge game for me. New Zealand are the best in the world, they are the benchmark team in rugby. I played against them once at youth team level, and they left an impression. I am impatient to get into these games – they are defining moments of a career.”

But whether the French get smashed or not, Grandclaude still has a point to make: namely that he can match the likes of Florian Fritz and Yannick Jauzion to get into the World Cup squad.

“In my position, there is huge competition,” he explained.

“It has been two years since I was even involved, but I have played well for Perpignan and today I have some small compensation. I know we are missing lots of centres today and I will try to profit from it as best I can.

“Bernard Laporte has said repeatedly over the past few weeks that he already has 90 per cent of the World Cup squad decided. But sport is full of comebacks.

“All players have a chance to take, even without the possibility of injuries. We have to demonstrate skills and that we have the mental toughness to try and match those players already in Laporte’s head.”

 

365 Digital

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