Error-strewn French must 'fix discipline'

Fly-half Romain Ntamack putting France comfortably ahead 28-10 in the second half of their Six Nations rugby match against Italy at the Stade de France on Sunday. But the visitors stormed back before losing 35-22. France lead Ireland on points differ
Fly-half Romain Ntamack putting France comfortably ahead 28-10 in the second half of their Six Nations rugby match against Italy at the Stade de France on Sunday. But the visitors stormed back before losing 35-22. France lead Ireland on points difference with both sides on nine points from two matches. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • France rugby coach Fabien Galthie stressed the need for consistency after watching his team go top of the Six Nations table with a 35-22 victory over Italy on Sunday.

France opened up a 23-10 half-time lead at the Stade de France but were forced into seeing off a stubborn Italian comeback to notch up a bonus-point win.

Former Les Bleus scrum-half Galthie admitted that the Italy match had been "tough".

"The first half was almost perfect, we made two errors," he said. "In the second half, we were less consistent and the team were battered by the Italians."

The French were guilty of taking their foot off the pedal and lost some of the shape of their defensive line that worked so well in last week's opening win over England.

Their poor discipline was also a cause for concern. France conceded 10 penalties, coming on top of seven given away against the World Cup runners-up.

"We were less consistent than against England in our defensive strategy," Galthie said.

France's South African-born lock Paul Willemse admitted the match had been "frustrating at the end".

"We got the bonus point so are happy with that, but there were a lot of errors, especially discipline, which we need to fix as quickly as possible," he said. "It's not normal for us to have conceded all those penalties, but we'll definitely focus on that in the weeks to come."

These issues will have to be addressed against defending champions Wales in two weeks if Les Bleus want to win their first Six Nations title since 2010.

Wales routed Italy 42-0 in the opening week and Italy coach Franco Smith was heartened by his team's latest performance.

"We're not angry with the performance," he said. "We made some mistakes in the first 15 to 20 minutes, but then we played much better than last week. Obviously, there's still work to do."

When asked whether Italy, who have lost 24 straight Six Nations matches dating back to 2015, deserved their spot in the ring-fenced tournament, Galthie dodged the bullet. "It's not our role to decide who takes part in the Six Nations," he said.

Tournament organisers recently played down reports that world champions South Africa could join an expanded Six Nations in 2024. Japan, Georgia and Fiji are among the other countries reportedly pushing to join the competition.

England coach Eddie Jones said experience of southern hemisphere rugby makes him wary of expanding the Six Nations.

"It (the Six Nations) is called the greatest rugby tournament in the world and I think it is. So why would you want to add other teams that are going to decrease the level of competition," said Jones, the former coach of Australian sides Brumbies and Reds.

"I can only talk from experience. Super Rugby was the golden egg of rugby - brilliant, 12 teams, competitive. As soon as it had gone to 14 and 15, it had lost its allure."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 11, 2020, with the headline 'Error-strewn French must 'fix discipline''. Print Edition | Subscribe