PARIS, France, Mar 17 – Fly-half Romain Ntamack said France have plenty to improve on ahead of this year’s World Cup after they ended the Six Nations with an unconvincing 25-14 victory over Italy.
The French finished fourth in the table after beating the Azzurri, as well as an injury-ravaged Scotland, before the quadrennial competition kicks off in September.
The start of the Six Nations was overshadowed by the record of only three wins in Jacques Brunel’s opening 11 games in charge which included a first ever defeat by Fiji in November.
Ntamack, 19, who made his international debut in the Six Nations opener against Wales, admitted Brunel’s outfit have plenty of things to work on.
“We are aware of some things, we progressed in certain matches, we saw it was a step up. We kind of know where we are. We have a lot of work to do,” the son of former France winger Emile Ntamack said.
– Unlimited uncertainty –
Off the field their campaign was overshadowed by doubts over Guilhem Guirado as captain, Brunel’s coaching staff, as well as talks of internal mutiny.
Following the 44-8 hammering at the hands of England, the players set up an eight-man leadership group to support skipper Guirado.
There were calls from former internationals for ex-France scrum-half Fabien Galthie to come in and help 65-year-old Brunel — who will be the oldest coach at the World Cup.
Hooker Guirado, ahead of welcoming the Scots to Paris, called for his players to “revolt” collectively and not against the coach after two disappointing opening results.
Experienced centre Mathieu Bastareaud, who made his France debut in 2009, said it was a difficult campaign.
“I’ve played a few Six Nations and Test series and the atmosphere around the team, I’ve never felt anything similar in the past with the negative pressure,” he said.
– Floodgates opened –
Les Bleus’ defence was an on-field element of frustration as Brunel’s men conceded 15 tries in five games — their worst record since the Six Nations began in 2000.
Their heaviest defeat by Eddie Jones’ England since 1911 followed a catastrophic second half against Wales, conceding 24 points.
Scotland were given chances to score more than just the once in the Parisian sunshine, defending champions Ireland dominated possession and territory in the 26-14 success in Paris and Italy were denied touchdowns twice by the television match official as well as the cushion protecting the post.
On a positive note, Brunel handed six debuts to new faces during the past ten weeks and gave chances to plenty of young faces.
Half-backs Antoine Dupont and teenager Ntamack grasped their opportunities on the international stage as experienced pair Morgan Parra and Camille Lopez were dropped after the trouncing at Twickenham.
World U20s champion Demba Bamba made the tight-head shirt his own with solid scrummaging and impactful contributions in open play.
Felix Lambey, Damien Penaud and Thomas Ramos all showed their potential at the highest level.
France are in a pool with England, Argentina, the United States and Tonga in the autumn and Brunel will announce an extended squad for the tournament on June 18.
Full-back Maxime Medard, who was a runner-up in the 2011 edition, losing to hosts New Zealand in the final, admitted improvement is the responsibility of the players.
“We have to be more accurate, more demanding of ourselves, play the full 80 minutes. Our team has the talent to that. It’s up to us to do what we have to do on the field.”
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