Distraught France coach Marc Lièvremont says his team needs some face-to-face discussions after their worst-ever World Cup performance ended in defeat to Tonga on Saturday.
France lost 19-14, and the loss would have been far heavier had Tonga held the ball better and kept its composure during repeated attacks.
Ever since the tournament started, Lièvremont has been drumming into his players the need to raise their game, but he now thinks an old-fashioned bonding session might be compulsory ahead of the quarter-final against England next weekend.
“I’ve never been against sharing a few beers together, in order to get things out in the open, and that’s a possible option for us,” said a clearly shaken Lièvremont.
“I think the criticism from the press has strengthened the spirit of the group, even though this environment isn’t comfortable for me and my players.”
France clearly must play much better to stand a chance of beating old rival England on Saturday.
“After a defeat like that, the squad is in a difficult position,” said captain Thierry Dusautoir.
“What’s for sure is that if we play at that tempo against the English, we’ll lose and go back home.”
France has played poorly so far, relying on its superior fitness levels to get the better of Japan and Canada with late tries. Its defensive flaws were glaringly exposed when it was comprehensively beaten 37-17 by New Zealand.
“When you see the attitude we showed today you can wonder what was going on in our minds,” Dusautoir said, adding that the team has been plagued by a lack of confidence “for a long time now.”
France scored at least four tries in each of its two wins, earning a crucial bonus point, but only a late try from winger Vincent Clerc - his fifth this tournament - ensured automatic qualification in Wellington on Saturday.
“I don’t know if it’s ever been done to lose twice and reach the quarter-finals. So there you are, France enters into the Rugby World Cup history books,” said Lièvremont.
“I feel sad for the numerous French people who came here to encourage us, who continue to believe in us. We were more fragile the longer the match went on.”
Although Lièvremont insists on the need for face-to-face talks with his players, he has said this before, and little has changed to suggest an improvement in either form or concentration once France takes the field.
“It’s hard to find an explanation for everything, but you have to take responsibility for your actions,” said Lièvremont.
“I still believe in my players. But I’m waiting for them to react. I don’t think we have a choice now, and I want to carry on fighting. I believe the players do, too, even if they’re disappointed by how they played tonight.”
Surprisingly, Lièvremont ruled out making changes against England.
“I think it would be very hard to shake up the whole team before the quarter-finals. I’ve made choices,” he said.
“I’m not sure if (others) had played the outcome of the match and the attitude would have been any different.”
Dusautoir has previously defended his team-mates, promising they would find the reserves needed to step up a level the longer the tournament went on.
But even he was in unforgiving mood after the Tonga debacle.
“Every time we broke through we dropped the ball, left gaps in our defense and had to scramble back not to concede a try. It was a difficult match on every level,” he said.
“When you miss one-on-one tackles, pass the ball on the ground, there’s nothing much you can say about anything.”
France has no second chances now, and Dusautoir hopes that will shake the team out of its slumber against England.
“The fact we have the quarter-final to come puts us in front of our responsibilities,” he said.
“We don’t have much to lose now, we won’t be favourites.”