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RugbyU: Welsh defeat confirms Saint-Andre's worst fears

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Philippe Saint-Andre did not want to enter into the debate over the overloaded French club schedule following the 16-6 defeat by Wales on Saturday, but it confirmed his worst fears prior to the Six Nations.

The 45-year-old told AFP a fortnight ahead of the opening game with Italy he was concerned what state he would find the players in after a relentless series of club matches since they had last been together in November.

"We are going into the Six Nations on the back of four successive wins (the three November tests plus a win over Argentina on their summer tour)," said the 69-times capped former France wing and captain, who coached France to a fourth placed finish in his first Six Nations last year.

"However, the players were fresh then. I don't know in what state I will have them now after Top 14 games and the European Cup pool matches."

Two defeats from two matches - the first French side since 1982 to do so - has made it plain to him the toll it has taken on the players who took care of Australia, bogey team Argentina and Samoa back in the November tests.

The half-back partnership of Maxime Machenaud and Frederic Michalak has failed so far to spark the backline, with the latter looking pedestrian in stark contrast to his fine displays for Toulon.

Indeed his wild pass, which hit fullback Yoann Huget in the face and bounced into grateful Welsh hands, led to the only try of the match late in the game for George North.

L'Equipe - whose front page headline read 'From the sublime to the ridiculous' - gave Michalak the lowest rating of the match (2 1/2 out of 10) and opined that 'it is not the same Michalak' as the one who was so effective and serene in November.

The 61-times capped playmaker for his part said immediately after the match: 'we were dreadful' before later giving a more measured assessment of the state of the team.

"I don't think the situation is serious, these are merely warnings," he said.

"The players are lacking in juice and making an impact. We are lacking in confidence and the small things are not coming easily to us. At times we are not functioning as a team."

Le Journal du Dimanche led with the title 'Autopsy of a Disaster' and bemoaned the fact 'the gladiators of the autumn have transformed into tramps with worn shoes,' but laid another criticism at the French championship Top 14's door.

"The worry is that nobody is knocking on the door (for selection).

"This Top 14, overflowing with foreign stars, is robbing the championship of home-bred French talent," said the paper, who raised the very real spectre the French could be playing Scotland for the wooden spoon in their final match at the Stade de France on March 16.

Despite the paper's claims there is not much room for manouevre for Saint-Andre in terms of selection, he has made it clear while he would stick by the players after the Italy defeat a second one would see changes.

"I will stick to my philosophy that we will select players who will be available for the 2015 World Cup," he said on Sunday.

"We are all on tenterhooks, regarding who will be selected," commented centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who won praise on his return to the starting line-up for the first time since the Grand Slam winning match in 2010 against England.

Saint-Andre still has credit with the pundits and media alike but with trips to Twickenham and Dublin to come it could well be exhausted by the time the Scottish game comes round, although he should survive.

pi/ak

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130210/rugbyu-welsh-defeat-confirms-saint-andres-worst-fears