France still stung by Tonga loss

    The pain of losing to Tonga last year still hurts French players with their 30-year-old hooker Dmitri Szarzewski warned  a side containing five changes from last weekend's narrow 26-19 New Zealand defeat can ill afford to ease off against Tonga.  

    The Ikale Tahi team  stunned the French  19-14 during the 2011 World Cup in a game  that led to scathing criticism from the French media.

    Philippe Saint-Andre has named a young squad to face the Pacific Islands nation in Le Havre this weekend.

    The Racing Metro front-rower admits France still feel the pain of that shock World Cup loss – as much because the French public will not let them forget as their own lingering frustration.

    “It’s a bad memory, obviously,” he explained, of the 19-14 Pool A defeat to Tonga .

    “I do not really want to talk about the past, but this does remain a stigma for us players.

    That loss

    “We hear about it constantly: it was a disappointment first that we could not give victory to the supporters. But everyone knows we were disappointed by that loss.

    “There are a few players in this group that played in that game, but we have been careful not to discuss it with our younger team-mates.”

    France coach Saint-Andre has handed Perpignan wing Sofiane Guitoune his first cap for the clash. The 24-year-old will line up outside Toulouse’s teenage talent Gael Fickou and Clermont’s Wesley Fofana in the centres.

    Szarzewski admits it is hard to shake off the frustration of an agonising All Blacks defeat – but has warned his colleagues nothing less than another committed display will generate victory this weekend.

    He continued: “Now we just want to validate all the good work we have done in the last few weeks.

    “We went close against the All Blacks, but now is the time for victory – we cannot afford to lose this game, we do not have the right.

    “It is hard not to think about the loss to New Zealand, because we went close. But we have to move on and make sure we prepare properly for this big challenge.”

    Perpignan’s Algeria-born Guitoune was unable to blossom in previous spells with Agen and Albi in France’s domestic league second tier.

    A cruciate knee ligament injury ruined his first campaign with Catalan side Perpignan, but now the arch finisher is finding his feet at Stade Aime Giral. And Saint-Andre has backed him to impress.

    The coach said: “I expect him to have a great match, he’s a player who just lives and breathes rugby, he’s a finisher who also senses the line. He has the ability to find space and the right timing.”

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