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Thursday, May 30, 2024

France waste ‘chance of a lifetime’ at home World Cup

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When Fabien Galthie took over as France head coach in December 2019, the Rugby World Cup on home soil was firmly in his mind but losing to South Africa in the quarter-finals on Sunday was far from what he expected.

Over the past four years former France skipper Galthie has planned things to the smallest details.

The 54-year-old had reassembled a well-balanced staff including former Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards, given gametime to talented players like Antoine Dupont and Gregory Alldritt and organised Test weeks meticulously.

Those moves came thanks to his experience as a Test player, a club coach and a television pundit.

Those ingredients had borne fruit with an impressive record.

They lost just once at home before the Springboks defeat, they achieved the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2022, and secured statement-making wins over the likes of New Zealand and Australia.

Closer to the competition, France’s pre-tournament preparation took them to Monaco and the Atlantic coast over the summer with open training sessions held in front of thousands of expectant French fans.

“No regrets,” Galthie said after the Springboks’ defeat.

“We did everything we could to make the most of our potential.

“We made the best of everything that has happened over the last 15 weeks,” he added.

‘Learn from it’

Captain, scrum-half and 2021’s World Rugby player of the year, Dupont epitomises another desire from Galthie.

Thick-rimmed spectacle-wearing Galthie was aiming for his players to have an average age of 26 and at least 40 caps by the time the World Cup started.

Dupont turns 27 in November and reached the half-century mark of Test appearances in the World Cup opener against New Zealand.

The abrasive half-back may have won tight domestic and continental finals with his Toulouse club, as have a core of France’s squad from La Rochelle such as No. 8 Alldritt but their lack of experience in win-or-bust Test matches proved costly.

“It’s hard to say,” Dupont said.

“It was our first knock-out game. It ends up that we didn’t tick the box.

“We will definitely gain experience from it, it’s sure we’ll learn from this type of match,” he added.

France won the right to host this World Cup with then French Rugby President Bernard Laporte eyeing up redemption for when he coached the side in 2007’s tournament, also on home soil, having lost 14-9 in the semi-finals to England.

Galthie’s generation played in front of sold-out stadiums across the country in the build-up to this edition and broke television audience records.

“It’s the competition of a lifetime, a World Cup in France,” flanker Francois Cros said.

“We won’t have another one, it’s a shame to finish like that,” he added.

Galthie, Dupont and Cros will stay on for a run at the 2027 World Cup in Australia.

It is the opposite for mammoth prop Uini Atonio and giant lock Romain Taofifenua who said in the wake of the defeat they were retiring from Test rugby.

Centre Jonathan Danty could join them but Galthie, thanks to France’s efficient youth system, has plenty of options to replace him including Yoram Moefana, Arthur Vincent and Emilien Gailleton.

Alldritt, aged 26 like Dupont, will remain a cornerstone of the team, and turned his mind to next year’s Six Nations in the aftermath of the Springboks defeat.

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“We have to digest this,” he told reporters post-match in the depths of the Stade de France.

“We’re lucky to have the Six Nations in three months.

“It will help us to digest, move on and we’ll start a cycle again.

“Those who will still be here will do the maximum to be present again and be at a quarter-final once more,” he added.


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