Critics toast and roast French

Six Nations champions France were toasted for winning the tournament but roasted for keeping a nation in suspense with continued indifferent performances.

The French newspaper reaction was to be expected. The French rugby media are arguably the most informed and intelligent around when it comes to being honest about their team. They know how to applaud, but they certainly know a stallion from a donkey. This French side is not quite a donkey, but as the French rugby media reported they certainly are no stallions ahead of the 2007 World Cup.

“Amazing!” ran the front page headline in sports daily L’Equipe over a picture of Florian Fritz scoring his winning try against Wales.

Le Journal de Dimanche headlined: “France snatch the Tournament!”

L’Equipe, who devoted five pages to the tournament, continued: “Trailing by 10 points and mauled by the Welsh devils in Cardiff, France waited for the final ten minutes and a Florian Fritz try topip the Welsh and win the 2006 Tournament. Frankly, who would have bet after the opening defeat to Scotland (16-20) on this happy ending.”

But the editorial dubbed Bernard Laporte’s men “the kings of suspense” with some close calls, notably when they were leading 43-3 against Ireland and dropped 28 points to let the Irish return 43-31.

“The rugby World Cup is in a year and a half, we have the time to enjoy a drink,” L’Equipe said.

But despite a successful season with wins over Australia, Tonga, Canada and South Africa, the World Cup is not a certitude, the newspaper warned.

“During the season only Scotland have beaten the French. So why are we still apprehensive?,” asked L’Equipe. “Maybe because this team and their coach seem incapable of
achieving any certitude? Becoming the world champions remains a very French challenge. It’s true that in this country, you’re never sure of anything.”

Le Journal de Dimanche relegated the win to the inside pages amid blanket coverage of a demonstration Sunday by an estimated million people who took to the streets of France to protest a widely unpopular new labour law.

“This success was neither the biggest (Italy 37-12, England 31-6) or the most spectacular (Ireland 43-31) in this Tournament,” the newspaper said. “Its biggest merit was that it helped them claim a 15th win in the event and called up all the true virtues of this French team. It has heart, great togetherness and above all great faith in itself. It allows them to finish the tournament on a high note and hobble towards the World Cup despite their imperfections.”