France may already have two wins on the board, but coach Philippe Boher and manager Philippe Sella insist their IRB Junior World Championship 2011 campaign only really starts against Australia in Treviso on Saturday.
Victory in the Pool B crunch game at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo will guarantee a first ever semi final berth and keep alive French hopes of toppling New Zealand from their perch as the only side to win the prestigious Under 20 title.
Boher, who shares the coaching duties with David Aucagne, insists that team morale is running high and the players are eagerly anticipating the clash with 2010 runners up Australia to show the rugby world just what they are capable of.
“The match against Australia is so crucial that we feel it’s like a quarter final,” admitted Boher. “It’s going to be quite a big fight, and our team will have to discover their weak points and exploit them.”
Victories over Fiji (24-12) and Tonga (27-14) have failed to excite a French public that has high expectations from a team sprinkled with Top 14 talent, including fly half captain Jean Marc Doussain, a Championship winner with Toulouse last month.
In those matches with the Pacific Islanders, the French struggled a little tactically and with ball retention, especially in the second game against Tonga when it took a late try from Pierre Gayraud to finally see off their spirited opponents.
“We must not hide the fact that, in the first two matches of this Championship, there have been some problems,” admitted Sella. “Our ball control has been lacking. We have managed to produce some good play, especially offensively, but we have to improve our control and finishing.”
Boher also thinks any criticism of his side is misplaced. “During the last Championship, Fiji reached the play-off for fifth to eighth place,” he said. “They’re an excellent team. France, during this JWC, still has time to improve its offensive performances.”
There is also the matter of adjusting to the physical approach of the southern hemisphere teams.
“In the southern hemisphere, the players are used to tackling high with strength and intensity,” Boher explained. “In the northern hemisphere, our players are used to being tackled around their legs and in the lower part of their bodies.”
Both Sella and Boher, however, are positive about France's prospects of reaching the semi finals for the first time and guaranteeing their best ever finish, having previously finished sixth in 2008 and fifth in 2009 and 2010.
“Our target can still be reached,” insisted Sella. “I realise that, at a global level, there are three teams that dominate this sport: New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
“We are one point behind them [Australia] but the first target was to win the first two matches, and the second target was to score as much as possible.
“We have almost achieved them both. We need another victory to be sure that we’ll go on in this Championship. I think we can do that.
“Australia managed to impose its own play in their first two matches. We haven’t but I am hoping this will happen against them. It’s going to be the hardest match.”