Former captain Serge Betsen admits he has already ripped up his wish-list for France in this season’s Six Nations following losses to Wales and England and is urging coach Jacques Brunel to put his faith in the young players who refused to capitulate during the Twickenham debacle.
France’s thumping 44-8 loss to England followed their defeat by Wales when Les Bleus led 16-0 in Paris and totally capitulated and they now host Scotland on February 23. Against England, France at least finished with some pride thanks to the talents of scrum half Antoine Dupont, centre Romain N’tamack and elusive wing David Penaud and Betsen wants French rugby to follow the lead of New Zealand and England by increasing the pool of young talent available to the selectors.
Betsen, who won 63 caps, is also concerned that French rugby is focussing on the 2023 Rugby World Cup they will be hosting instead of ensuring the country mounts a serious challenge in Japan later this year when they must try to make the knock out stages from the toughest pool they have ever faced, containing England, Argentina, Tonga and the USA.
The former Biarritz and Wasps flanker said: “Before the Six Nations started I wanted to see France win their two home games with Wales and Scotland and try to challenge the other teams away from home, particularly Italy. My prediction has fallen apart but the players who finished at Twickenham looked to me like the ones who can help give the French team some momentum for the future. We have to change people’s minds about what France can deliver.
“The problem when people talk about the next generation in France is they are looking at the 2023 World Cup which is a very silly approach. Brunel should be focussing on the next generation and making sure they are ready for this year’s World Cup in Japan. I don’t want this World Cup to be seen as a trial for the next one, I want to see France picking the best possible players. Otherwise we will go into the Cup with the wrong mind set.
“The replacements at Twickenham showed the talent of the new generation of players who can break the defensive line and produce their best ability. Dupont and N’tamack showed they have the ability at test level and that is really positive for France. Maybe Jacques Brunel wants to protect the young players a little bit and use them at the right time, but Dupont has shown from the start of the season that he is improving and is one of the best No9’s ever in France.
“I have been in England for 10 years and Clive Woodward and Eddie Jones have brought through young players into the senior squad and so has New Zealand. France needs to work out how we can help the young talent achieve success at the highest levels and that is down to not only the Federation but also the Top 14 clubs. I am not sure we are ready to invest in this strategy in France and it needs to be part of our culture.”
Betsen does not expect a change of coach before the World Cup given France recently sacked Guy Noves to bring in Brunel. “ We know we have the talent but other teams are progressing faster:” he added. “We have to remember that the pool games are different from any other World Cup for France and it will be a big task to achieve (the quarter-finals).