Laporte wary of Southern Hemisphere tasks ahead
April 3, 2000

France coach Bernard Laporte is still searching for the foundations of a French side to rival the southern hemisphere's big three as a visit to world champions Australia looms.

A Six Nations championship that started with promise as France beat Wales 36-3 in Laporte's first match in charge went steadily downhill, ending in a face-saving home victory over Italy in their last match on Saturday.

Laporte now plans to address problems in domestic rugby including a demanding calendar he blames for a spate of injuries that played havoc with his selection plans.

The team that beat Italy 42-31 to end a run of five successive defeats at the Stade de France bore little resemblance to his near ideal side in Cardiff two months ago.

Particularly unsettling has been the need to change his halfback pair for every match with World Cup orchestrator Christophe Lamaison out from the second game, a narrow home loss to title winners England.

Laporte said on taking charge in November that he wanted to build a side that could compete as equals with Australia, New Zealand and South Africa on a regular basis rather than produce only the occasional brilliant upset such as France's World Cup semifinal defeat of the All Blacks.

Now, instead of travelling to face the Wallabies confident of sound foundations, Laporte is sure only that France suffer from a lack of strength in depth due, he believes, to a domestic championship with too many matches but not enough quality of competition.

A coach who preaches defensive rigour above all, Laporte sees France's historic upset by Ireland at home two weeks ago as the low point in the tournament.

"The defeat against Ireland remains my biggest disappointment," he said. "We let the match slip from our hands through lack of rigour.

"I regret above all not being able to keep the team I had in Cardiff. I think that if we'd been able to retain the same line-up we'd have beaten the English. But given the circumstances, England were on top as predicted and the stronger team won on the day."

But Laporte is not downhearted and believes that given the time and right conditions he can build a side capable of avenging France's defeat to Australia in last year's World Cup final.

"Overall, I feel reassured. Certainly, there's a problem of finishing and lots of things that aren't working. We lose points on the way, forget to score four tries and give away 14 points to the Italians, a royal gift. But we showed a certain capacity to link up. This gives us hope," Laporte said.

Italy's flyhalf Diego Dominguez, who said farewell to test rugby on Saturday, knows Laporte well as they won the French championship with Stade Francais two years ago and believes his ideas have not yet sunk in.

"Knowing Bernard, I've got the feeling the players aren't doing what he's asking them to. When they do it to perfection, they'll be strong," Dominguez said.

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