France must let go of game plan
Former forwards coach tells team to get back on feet
France must rediscover their joie de vivre if they are to stand a chance of winning Saturday's Rugby World Cup quarter-final against New Zealand, according to a member of the coaching team who helped Les Bleus to the 2011 final.
Didier Retiere, the 2011 forwards coach who is now technical director at the French Rugby Federation, says France need the same approach that helped them to shrug off the pressure of a stuttering pool phase four years ago to find a new lease of life in the knockout rounds.
Les Bleus, who came agonisingly close to lifting the trophy in an 8-7 defeat against the All Blacks, have had a similar start to the tournament this year after a below-par performance in losing 24-9 to Ireland in their final pool match.
"All the players must question themselves, reflect on the little mistakes that we saw against Ireland, and get back on their feet," Retiere said.
"They must let go, they must play and not necessarily always be thinking about the game plan. They have been trying to do well but it lacks spontaneity."
For all their defensive qualities, France have often found salvation in attack, where their unpredictability has caused a few upsets.
"The players need to be more natural. It is good to have a game plan, but let's avoid thinking too much about it and asking 50,000 questions. We must first play rugby," Retiere explained.
"It means taking the ball at pace, take this little dose of risk and try to break free from the pressure of getting a result. If the players let go, they will be able to reproduce what they have been doing so well in training."
In 2011 France lost their last two pool games against New Zealand and Tonga, but scraped into the knockout phase and a showdown with England for a place in the last four.
"It was so French," said Retiere.
"The week leading up to the England game was the easiest of the whole tournament, it was our best week," he recalled, saying that the squad had felt the pressure was off.
Pressure or not, Retiere said that every player in the squad has a role to play as France plot a way past the All Blacks at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday evening.
"Things are not always easy in a squad because there are players who are replacements and they don't like it, but this week all of them, from number one to 31, will have something to bring to the team," he said.
"There will be a form of sacred union.
"Nobody believes we can win, but there is always a flicker of hope and I'm sure a lot of French people can see it."