PARIS (AFP) - New France coach Fabien Galthie hailed his team's solidarity after a nail-biting 24-17 victory over England in their Six Nations opener on Sunday (Feb 2).
France had stagnated under previous coach Jacques Brunel, with Galthie drafted in as assistant at the Rugby World Cup before taking over full-time after Les Bleus' quarter-final exit in Japan.
Galthie, a former France captain and scrum-half, drafted in a strong backroom staff including Raphael Ibanez and ex-Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards, also plumping for a raft of younger players at the expense of the older guard in a revitalised squad.
And so it paid off under the rain at a vibrant, packed Stade de France.
"The victory is thanks to the players and the solidarity they showed, especially when England came back in the second half," Galthie said, France having rushed out to a 24-0 lead before a converted Jonny May brace of tries let England back into the game.
"It's also down to the work done by the squad over the last two weeks, work by staff over the last two months, the clubs who have helped us and helped contribute to our preparation.
"It's a great victory, very satisfying," Galthie said, with Ibanez adding that it was a "great day for French rugby".
"French rugby wanted to win back the hearts of a French public. They did that in a stadium that rocked. It's only the start, but it's a great day." France skipper Charles Ollivon bagged his own brace of tries, with Vincent Rattez opening the scoring with an early opportunistic five-pointer.
But the one area where the French stood out was in defence, the forwards putting in a real shift of raw aggression, centre Gael Fickou outstanding in the midfield defence.
VERY POSITIVE STATE
"When the English team had possession, our team was well organised and fought back every time to win the arm wrestle," Galthie said.
"Scoring three tries in the rain against England is really something." Galthie added: "We're a in a very positive state. We all invested a lot in this match." England coach Eddie Jones acknowledged that his team had been outplayed by France in the opening period, but praised them for sticking at it.
"We weren't good enough in that first half and they were," the Australian said.
"I was really pleased with our second half. It was a game that could have been ugly for us, the crowd were going nuts." Jones insisted there was no hangover from losing the Rugby World Cup final to South Africa last autumn in Japan.
"I don't think we would have a mental problem with that second-half performance," he said.
"France played really well, especially in that first half. They're a young team, there's a bit of a renaissance in French rugby and we struggled to match their intensity." "We'll pick ourselves up and get up to Scotland," Jones added, with his team on a short turnaround for next weekend's second round of matches, when France host Italy.
France skipper Ollivon said he would "certainly remember" his try double, but stressed that he wouldn't be dwelling long on it.
"There'll be many more weekends when I don't score," he said.
"The one thing I want is to keep this spirit in the squad."