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RugbyU: French look to avoid repeat of 1999 wooden spoon

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

France will bid to erase a woeful Six Nations campaign by beating Scotland at the Stade de France on Saturday and hope other results go their way so they avoid their first wooden spoon since 1999.

Ironically they landed the unwanted title thanks to a home defeat by the Scots, which was the last time they won in Paris.

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has told his players they have to win because they owe the French fans a big performance.

"I have told the players they must battle for 80 minutes and take the game by the scruff of the neck," said the 45-year-old.

"I want them to deliver pleasure to the public, to the Stade de France and to French rugby. I want them to finish on a high note in what has been for us a very very bad Six Nations."

Saint-Andre, whose side are on a seven-match winless run in the Six Nations -- the worst in almost 90 years -- made three changes to the starting XV in last Saturday's bruising 13-13 draw with Ireland in Dublin.

In comes South African-born flanker Antonie Claassen, for Yannick Nyanga, New Caledonia-born lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, for Christophe Samson, and powerful centre Mathieu Bastareaud for Florian Fritz.

"We decided to make two changes up front not only because of the Scottish pack's strengths, but also because a lot of rain is forecast for Saturday and we wanted to add a little more power to the scrum," said Saint-Andre.

Saint-Andre, who last Sunday had to rubbish rumours he was thinking of standing down and insisted he would see his contract through to the 2015 World Cup, still retained faith with under-fire fly-half Frederic Michalak.

"I cannot imagine the people who were applauding him in November (when he played an influential role in France's three Test wins), will boo him on Saturday," said Saint-Andre.

Bastareaud will certainly deliver extra power in the backs, his demotion from the starting XV for the Ireland game was something of a surprise as he had been one of the few French players to make an impact this season.

The Toulon centre, whose battle with his weight has replaced a previous tussle with his mental demons, delivered a stirring call to arms to his team-mates earlier this week.

"The objective is to win, and if possible in style," said the 24-year-old, who will win his 14th cap.

"It is imperative we stop asking ourselves 10,000 questions, to think of what will happen if we lose.

"We have to think about winning, to be positive and to go out to play the Scots with our heads held high and be proud to play in this final match.

"For us it has been a difficult tournament. There has not been much pleasure to take out of it. We need to try and enjoy ourselves."

The French, though, may be fortunate in facing the Scots.

While they have won twice they could just as easily have been contesting the wooden spoon, a relatively easy win over Italy followed by a win over the Irish which was more to do with the losers failing to take a host of scoring opportunities.

However, Scotland's interim coach, the combative Scott Johnson, believes his side can ensure France's campaign ends on a suitably miserable note.

"France? Wounded animals, aren't they? They are big beasts. A quality rugby nation who could have won all of their games," he said.

"They could be going for a Grand Slam; here they are trying to get a victory.

"They say you shouldn't wake sleeping giants. But trust me, our intention is to wake them our way."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130314/rugbyu-french-look-avoid-repeat-1999-wooden-spoon