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Last Updated:  Sunday, 30 March, 2003, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Troubled French can bounce back
Things are not looking up for Bernard Laporte after France's poor Six Nations campaign
Laporte has plenty of work to do with France
Fifteen minutes into their Six Nations campaign, things were looking pretty good for France.

The defending champions led at Twickenham, England were struggling, and Bernard Laporte seemed to have fashioned a combination of French flair and steely determination which was trés formidable.

Unfortunately for 'The Kaiser' and his team, that was to be the highlight of their campaign.

The French discipline faltered and off-form England were more than happy to let Jonny Wilkinson cash in.

Such lapses epitomised a bitterly disappointing campaign falling well short of the high expectations Laporte and his team shared.

And it was to get worse.

After despatching a disappointing Scotland in Paris, France's tournament reached its nadir at Lansdowne Road, where Les Bleus became Les Miserables.

We will never be world champions with the 22 that played against Ireland
Bernard Laporte after his side's 15-12 defeat

Outkicked and outfought, a 15-12 defeat left only Ireland and England dreaming of the Six Nations crown - and a furious Laporte branding his players 'liars'.

"We will never be world champions with the 22 that played against Ireland, that is clear," he stormed, accusing his players of 'cheating on their team-mates' with their below-par displays.

Unpredictability has often been a French asset, with opponents frequently bamboozled by their brilliant, maverick approach - but in 2003 it has been replaced by inconsistency.

Take the Italy game. An awesome opening 20 minutes somehow became a ragged mess by the second half.

And this combination has become the template to which French performances seem to fit these days.

Ireland players celebrate after their 15-12 win over France
The Lansdowne Road defeat was a low point for France

Yet the unseasonal gloom afflicting Paris this springtime could yet be converted into joy this autumn.

Perhaps more than any other team, the French have the ability to bounce back and recapture their dizzying highs.

The key is whether Laporte - a strict disciplinarian - can inject the right amount of steel alongside the natural Gallic flamboyance.

The evidence of Twickenham and Lansdowne Road suggests he is yet to find the correct ratio.

Ill-discipline cost the French both games, yet it seemed the natural exuberance of his charges had also been compromised.

On the positive side, the emergence of Dimitri Yachvili is a real bonus for Laporte who - like every international rugby coach - would love a kicker with the consistency of a Jonny Wilkinson.

Yachvili, successful in 15 out of 16 kicks in France's closing two games, is still only 22 and appears to relish the professional approach which has, perhaps, been lacking in French sides of the past.

Thomas Castaignede's man-of-the-match showing against Wales was another boost - although he will probably be behind Tony Marsh in Laporte's reckoning.

But that kind of strong competition for places has been one of the keys to England's success of late.

And, as much as it will gall the French to hear it, they must look to emulate their cousins from across the channel if they hope to celebrate success later this year.




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