France face England in what the organisers pray will be a realchampionship decider, as it was by accident rather than design last year whenIreland went to the wire against the English.
For Laporte, though, it will require a superhuman effort to raisehis troops' morale after the battering they took at the hands of Englandin the pouring rain in Sydney in the 24-7 World Cup semi-final defeat inNovember.
However, he will be extra keen to start off his hard-won newfour-year contract with an impressive Six Nations campaign - Laporte is stillunder the microscope, as are his assistant coaches who are on probabtion forthe tournament.
A chastened Laporte has said there are lessons to be learned fromthe last game with England and he is determined to take advantage of them. "They (the English) outsmarted us both physically andpsychologically," the 39-year-old former Stade Francais handler admitted.
Laporte now has to contend with a demanding first match at home toIreland on February 14th, though for the always romantically inclined French itbeing St Valentines Day might just spur them on that much more passionately.
At least the hosts will go into the opener with the psychologicaladvantage that they demolished a high class Irish side 43-21 in the World Cup quarter-finals - their performance in the first-half when they scored27 points to none accepted by most pundits as probably the best 40minutes of rugby from one team in the tournament - which still has the Irishreeling. However, Laporte accepts that with the retirements of inspirational charismatic captain Fabien Galthie and 1999 World Cup skipper RaphaelIbanez, a huge gap has been left.
"They were immense players for us," said Laporte.
With Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Yannick Bru likely to fillGalthie's and Ibanez's boots respectively, Laporte will need more than ever adominating performance from 21-year-old fly-half Frederic Michalak, who like hiscoach needs to correct the last impression he left at the World Cup -cracking under the pressure of the semi-final against England.
"Of course it is still in my head how I played thatnight," Michalak, who has scored 163 points including four tries in his 18 tests to date, said.
"But I would like to think I can put that to the back of mymind as it is in the past, though it will remain with me. In a way I like that as you can learn from bad performancesand rid yourself of those errors," he admitted bluntly.
Laporte too is praying that the youngster has indeed come throughthe baptism of fire successfully. "I hope he (Michalak) shows that his last match is behind him(the 24-7 defeat by England)," Laporte said.
"Of course facing Ireland is a tough task and it will be evenmore so for him on a psychological level given this is his first internationalsince the poor match he played against England.
"However he is a class player and he has been playing wellfor Toulouse and I think the matter is finished."
France will dearly hope so because the last thing they need isanother underwhelming performance in such an important match because thedamage psychologically could be ever-lasting for Michalak. For Laporte, itcould have far-reaching consequences. (AFP)