LONDON (AP) — Philippe Saint-Andre became the latest France coach to bemoan the team's lack of preparation time ahead of a Six Nations, claiming Wednesday it will hinder Les Bleus' chances of winning the tournament.
While players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales have the forthcoming weekend off before the opening matches of the tournament on Feb. 2, France's internationals will be in action in the grueling domestic Top 14.
The country's rugby authorities have refused to budge over scheduling and it angers Saint-Andre, like it did his predecessors. "The Six Nations is a fantastic event and it looks you run 100 meters, but you start 10 meters behind (the other teams)," Saint-Andre said. "So we need to run 110 meters.
"We need to look after our best 33, 34 players like England do. But Bernard Laporte was saying the same thing, Marc Lievremont was saying the same thing. For me, I just hope the next coach after me will say, 'Everything is in place.'"
The French have won their last four tests, including victories home and away over Argentina and a 33-6 thrashing of Australia, and has a squad bulging with battle-hardened players from the strongest domestic league in Europe at present.
It makes them Six Nations favorites to many pundits but Saint-Andre doesn't see it that way. Together with France's chaotic buildup — the players are only in camp together from Monday — Saint-Andre believes having three away games combined with the team's notorious lack of consistency puts Les Bleus as the one of the underdogs.
"England, with their (38-21 win) against New Zealand (in the autumn internationals) and three home games, they are the favourites," Saint-Andre said. "We are outsiders but the French like to be outsiders.
"The big problem for French rugby is consistency. On our best day we can beat the best in the world, on our worst we can lose to anyone. This year is big, we are trying to show how tough we can be mentally and physically away from home."
Saint-Andre has retained lock Pascal Pape as captain, with usual skipper Thierry Dusautoir still on his way back from knee injury that forced him to miss the wins over Samoa, Australia and Argentina in November. The outstanding flanker is back playing again with Toulouse and could be involved in France's Six Nations opener against Italy on Feb. 3 if he comes through this weekend.
"We are still waiting for Saturday, because there is the French league Thursday and Friday, so we just cross our fingers that we won't have too many injuries," Saint-Andre said. France last won the Six Nations in 2010, when the team clinched the Grand Slam.