Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: French starting over in challenge with best: No8

If the French are handing out awards for sporting diplomacy, Louis Picamoles would be a prime contender.

He is certainly top-shelf French boeuf at 113kg and 1.92m, ploughing many of the hard metres from the back of the scrum where he has represented his country 36 times.

This is his third rugby trip to New Zealand after previous visits in 2009 and the oh-so-close conclusion to the World Cup two years later.

That was then. The French squad has changed a great deal since Philippe St Andre took over as coach from Marc Lievremont. Quite what they are doing or how they are planning to play is a mystery.

Their Six Nations work was modest.

Picamoles believes it is a case of starting again in the build-up to the 2015 world tournament.

Testing themselves against the All Blacks is a great yardstick for France who believe they can challenge the men in black in the three-test series.

The No8 said the side may be young but they believed they could give the All Blacks some hurry-up.

"We want to enjoy this time with the French team. It is always great to tour with the national side," he said.

"Having played here before, that is the thing I tell the others, to get great pleasure from living and taking in this land and the people.

"We have to enjoy our time on the pitch too and the experiments the selectors are making with the side."

There was no comparison with the 2011 side, which came within touching distance of the World Cup.

"We are not in the same kind of competition. Many of the senior players have left the squad now so we are developing the next wave so they are two different teams," Picamoles said.

He hoped France had moved on from their struggles in the Six Nations. It was a time for bedding in some ideas and work they wanted to expand on.

St Andre had a different personality from his predecessor and brought his own strategies. That was a natural evolution and would take some time to settle.

"But we are not here to compare, we are here to find a collective work to be able to face the challenge from the best," Picamoles said.

It would be an honour to play against new All Black captain Kieran Read, whose work was of consistently high quality, he said.

"We are not here to have a duel. We are here to find collective solutions and while there will be individual comparisons in these games, the solution for us is to work together."

Touche Monsieur Picamoles, vous avez un certificate diplomatique.

- NZ Herald

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