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Saturday, November 6, 1999 Published at 19:08 GMT

Optimistic French pick up pieces

Skrela is not despondent despite France's record 35-12 World Cup final loss

France completed their World Cup campaign on the end of the biggest thumping in the tournament's history but coach Jean-Claude Skrela believes his country has finally emerged from the rugby doldrums.

The Australian captain John Eales: "Bill's on the way back home"
Skrela said France had progressed a long way during the six-week competition and were beaten by a better team.

'Nearly there'

"We're not far off, I'm convinced, but we still have work to do. We must be capable in our European competitions of maintaining this intensity and have more control.

[ image: Winger Bernat-Salles was never given the chance to really excel]
Winger Bernat-Salles was never given the chance to really excel
"But we've come a long way. We started with defeat by 50 points to the All Blacks. But we need to have this intensity a lot more often."

Before France's epic 43-31 semi-final destruction of the All Blacks, the side had been struggling through the worst year in its history.

The French only progressed to the last eight courtesy of the easiest draw among the top sides and were written off as no-hopers against New Zealand.

Few believed they would manage to repeat that upset against the Australians but Skrela said despite the 35-12 scoreline, he was not despondent.

[ image: France were tired and committed 13 handling errors]
France were tired and committed 13 handling errors
"We were beaten by a very good and well-organised Australian team," he said.

"We were put under pressure and forced into lots of little mistakes.

"Each time we managed to open the game out we were forced into little errors. They're a lot more compact, a very hermetic defence. My biggest regret is that we did not manage to add this dimension (to our game).

"Today's players must have the habit of playing only top level matches. The rhythm, intensity - you can only get these with matches at the top level."

French skipper Raphael Ibanez was devastated by his team's comprehensive defeat, but was quick to pay tribute to Australia.

"The Australians performed better than we did on the day and I want to say a big bravo to them.

Step too far

"But I must also congratulate the French players for what they achieved by getting to the final.

"We had good possession and good territory but we made far too many mistakes."

Ibinez said France's victory over the New Zealand All Blacks took a lot out of his team.

"We put so much into that game. As a result of that we were less fresh and we played with less frenzy.

"But I want to say a very big thank you to my team-mates. They gave everything they possibly could, but we just couldn't do it again.

"Everyone did the best they could but the Australians are used to playing at this level and that proved the difference.

"For us it was like an adventure. No one expected us to reach the final, but unfortunately we just couldn't take the final step."

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