No one does a crisis quite like the French. Whether its students tearing up paving stones in the street to hurl at police, workers setting cars alight or politicians shouting abuse at critics, the French are in a league of their own.

President Nicolas Sarkozy recently called his media critics "paedophiles". So perhaps we should have expected similarly dramatic statements in the light of the French rugby team's abject 16-59 capitulation to Australia last weekend. Ahead by 16-13 seven minutes after half time, France were smashed and humiliated as the Wallabies ran in six tries in the last 32 minutes.

"If the divorce is not consummated, the break is obvious between the players of the French XV and their trainers, between the team and the public, after the humiliating defeat of the Blues before the Australians," said one headline in the aftermath.

The critics lined up to assassinate coach Marc Lievremont and his colleagues. Clearly, this humiliation for the French was something no one there had seen coming. Yet to international observers of the world scene and the French game, it did not greatly surprise. The clues had been laying all over French fields this season, for those able to see them - but not the French themselves.

Rugby in the Top 14 in France this season has been poor in every sense. Most teams have not had a clue how to embrace the "new" game possible under different law interpretations. Sides have continued to kick aimlessly downfield and then catch the return kick from opponents. There has been widespread killing of the ball at the breakdowns and the referees have done nothing to stop it.

When you see sides even with the talent of Toulouse just hoofing the ball downfield at times, you understand the extent of the problem. Yet it is as though no one in French rugby had the slightest idea that a new game was formulating in the Southern Hemisphere, one based on speed, attack and a philosophy of keeping ball in hand.

Yet these are the characteristics that used to define French rugby. They were the best in the world at running and handling, giving, taking and timing a pass to perfection so as to take out the defender. But you hardly see it these days in France.

In vogue right now are players like Sebastien Chabal, who charge forward seeking contact, not space. The entire ambition appears to be to damage the tackler.

The notion of taking the tackle but off-loading so as to maintain momentum and continuity appear completely alien to the French.

Australia didn't reach for the drawer marked "rocket science" in Paris. Several of their seven tries were scored off first-phase possession. But they did efficiently time their passes, play in opponents' faces and take them out by making the ball do the work. They created space and worked players free to score.

There was nothing very revolutionary about that; these are among the guiding principles that used to underpin the game before aimless kicking became a plague.

The supreme irony is that their players and approach of the past would have suited perfectly the contemporary game. The great Boniface brothers, Jean Gachassin, Jo Maso, Pierre Villepreux, Christian Darrouy and Michel Crauste would have flourished today.

French rugby's problem is that it has been seduced by what it sees as the need for physicality. Picking three lampposts such as Damien Traille, Yannick Jauzion and Aurelien Rougerie at 10, 12 and 13 simply confirms the mentality. None is a Quade Cooper, James O'Connor or Matt Giteau.

Peter Bills is a rugby writer for Independent News & Media