Dearth of knockout experience leaves France floored by seasoned Boks at home World Cup
Despite spending millions France came up short in the one category that cannot be bought — experience — in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinal against the Springboks.
France came into the World Cup with the self-belief their new generation would claim a maiden title, yet they crashed into a brutal reality against South Africa on Sunday — nothing replaces experience.
Les Bleus were playing their first knockout Test under Fabien Galthie and frustration crept up on them as they failed to deal with Ben O’Keeffe’s refereeing while their replacements had no impact and the Springboks’ finishers made the difference in the furore of the Stade de France.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Narrowest of margins: Brutal Boks find a way to edge Les Bleus in Paris quarterfinal thriller
The quarterfinal exit leaves France where they were in the previous two World Cups — at the door of the business end of the tournament, and a couple of notches below the not-so-loved team of 2011.
That year, France were beaten by a single point (8-7), too, but it was in the final against hosts New Zealand in a contest that triggered debates about refereeing as well.
Galthie, who took over after the 2019 World Cup, had been given unprecedented means to prepare for this year’s home tournament and he failed to deliver, even if he still has another four-year cycle to meet his target.
The former France captain had 42 players at his disposal during training camps and the players had never been more available to him after the French federation and the French league struck a deal that heavily favoured the national team.
The French staff also had Jerome Garces, the 2019 World Cup final referee, on their payroll, and this should have helped them better prepare for Sunday’s furious battle, which South Africa won 29-28.
Losing to the defending champions by a single point is not a disgrace, even in the quarterfinals after the draw was made at a time when the rugby world’s order was different.
Yet, the French federation spent about €9-million (R185-million)) to compensate the clubs in a World Cup year to have them at their disposal as much as possible and the managers had a 50-strong staff behind them.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Rugby World Cup News Hub
Even if France had to deal with the injury of talismanic flyhalf Romain Ntamack in the lead-up to the tournament, they should have done better.
France captain Antoine Dupont, back from surgery with a titanium plate under his cheek, did not show nerves of steel when O’Keeffe made debatable decisions, and possibly left some energy there.
While Dupont slammed the refereeing, Galthie chose a more composed approach.
Read more in Daily Maverick: France captain Dupont unhappy with ref after Les Bleus fall to Boks in World Cup quarterfinal
“We worked with the referees this week and we will continue to do so. I understand the players’ frustration but I say congratulations to the South Africans and their staff,” he said.
South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber, whose plan to bring his premium halfbacks Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard early in the second half was spot on after high kicks and the mind-blowing speed of their wingers worked wonders before the break, summed it up in one short sentence.
“They’ve been there before, they’ve been at a World Cup before and they’ve found solutions during the game,” he said.
For all their brilliance, the immense majority of the French squad had never been in a make-or-break situation.
“We will learn from it,” Dupont said.
Galthie, whose contract runs until June 2028, will be hoping that he will have the same financial means in the future.
Whether he does or not, he will still be able to rely on Dupont, Ntamack and most of his squad with only lock Romain Taofifenua and prop Uini Atonio having announced their international retirement.
He might also find comfort in the fact that the 2027 World Cup will be played in the southern hemisphere, where France have reached two of their three finals – having lost all three World Cup knockout games they played at home. Reuters/DM