Philippe Saint-Andre hopes scrum will inspire France team.
Philippe Saint-Andre has had little to smile about during a dire Six Nations campaign, save perhaps the solid performance by the scrum and a resolute defence.
The 45-year-old – who has insisted he will be honouring his contract and staying until the 2015 World Cup – will hope they will finally spark the rest of the team to life against Scotland on Saturday and end their campaign with their first win.
If they fail to do so, France face the prospect of their first wooden spoon since 1999, having garnered just one point in four matches after scratching out a 13-13 draw with Ireland in Dublin last Saturday.
The praise that the scrum has earned is welcomed, although it comes with caveats given the general atmosphere round the squad.
“It is good that our work is paying off,” said prop Thomas Domingo laconically.
“It is imperative that we continue like this,” added the 27-year-old Clermont stalwart.
Domingo, however, said he did not wish to go into the details of what the scrum was doing right as they still hadn’t led to good results.
His fellow prop Nicolas Mas, though, said their work had paid off.
It was the pressure exerted by the French scrum that provoked their Irish counterparts into conceding a penalty late in the game in Dublin and led to their try by No8 Louis Picamoles – which Frederic Michalak converted to get them the draw.
“It was satisfying,” said the 32-year-old, capped over 50 times since 2003 and a key member of the side that lost 8-7 to the All Blacks in the 2011 World Cup final.
Saint-Andre, who replaced the unpredictable Marc Lievremont after the 2011 World Cup, has made much of the fact only seven players remain from the squad that went to New Zealand as he rebuilds the side for the 2015 World Cup.
Hooker Benjamin Kayser feels that scrum coach Yannick Bru – who, like Saint-Andre, came in after the World Cup – has tried to create a tight-knit front five in the scrum.
“Since the test series in November Yannick has tried to create a homogeneous unit of five up front,” he said.
“There is a strong feeling that we have adapted to the project. From that point of view it is working well.”
Kayser adds that the front rowers are inseparable when brought together at the training centre here, something which has allowed them to become a more cohesive and effective unit.
“We are all experienced,” said Mas.
“There are small things to iron out in our game but we are quick to fix them.”
Despite there being several changes in personnel during the campaign because of injury – notably to veteran lock Pascal Pape – the rhythm of the scrum has not been unduly affected.
Each of their performances has been disected to the barest detail on video and there is a willingness from them to evolve and to develop a new strategy.
“We are especially intense during the week leading up to the game before matches,” said Kayser, who added there was special attention paid to the preparation prior to going down for a scrum with the commands “crouch, touch, set.”
“They (the coaches) talk to us about the tempo down to almost a hundreth of a second.
“We listen to them sufficiently so that it becomes like listening to music,” commented Kayser, who puts the referee’s commands from the previous week’s match on his Ipod.
However, no matter what efforts the scrum puts in their team-mates acknowledge that they cannot just rely on them.
“At the highest level you cannot base your game around the scrum, even if I have a lot of confidence in the big guys,” said scrum-half Morgan Parra.