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Laporte Looking Beyond The Opener.

Laporte Looking Beyond The Opener.

Even before a ball has been kicked, French coach Bernard Laporte is looking forward to the final game, a potential Grand Slam decider with world champions England.

In what must be music to Eddie O’Sullivan’s, French coach Bernard Laporte says that beating England in the final match of the RBS Six Nations
to capture his second Grand Slam would certainly be the icing on the cake. And that before a ball has been kicked in this year’s championship which opens for the French with the game against Ireland in Paris on Saturday.

France face England in what the organisers pray will be a real
decider, as it was by accident rather than design last year when
Ireland went
to the wire against the English.

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For Laporte, though, it will require a superhuman effort to raise
troops’ morale after the battering they took at the hands of England
in the
pouring rain in Sydney in the 24-7 World Cup semi-final defeat in

However, he will be extra keen to start off his hard-won new
contract with an impressive Six Nations campaign – Laporte is still
under the
microscope, as are his assistant coaches who are on probabtion for

A chastened Laporte has said there are lessons to be learned from
the last
game with England and he is determined to take advantage of them.
“They (the English) outsmarted us both physically and
psychologically,” the
39-year-old former Stade Francais handler admitted.

Laporte now has to contend with a demanding first match at home to
on February 14th, though for the always romantically inclined French it
being St
Valentines Day
might just spur them on that much more passionately.

At least the hosts will go into the opener with the psychological
that they demolished a high class Irish side 43-21 in the World Cup
quarter-finals – their performance in the first-half when they scored
points to none accepted by most pundits as probably the best 40
minutes of
rugby from one team in the tournament – which still has the Irish
However, Laporte accepts that with the retirements of inspirational
charismatic captain Fabien Galthie and 1999 World Cup skipper Raphael

a huge gap has been left.

“They were immense players for us,” said Laporte.
“Those will be huge gaps to fill but then again other teams
have lost
influential players such as Martin Johnson for England and Keith Wood
Ireland … so there is no excuse.”

With Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Yannick Bru likely to fill
Galthie’s and
Ibanez’s boots respectively, Laporte will need more than ever a
performance from 21-year-old fly-half Frederic Michalak, who like his
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 that
night,” 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 my
mind as it is
in the past, though it will remain with me. In a way I like that as you can learn from bad performances
and rid
yourself of those errors,” he admitted bluntly.

Laporte too is praying that the youngster has indeed come through
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 even
more so for
him on a psychological level given this is his first international
since the
poor match he played against England.

“However he is a class player and he has been playing well
for Toulouse and
I think the matter is finished.”

France will dearly hope so because the last thing they need is
underwhelming performance in such an important match because the
psychologically could be ever-lasting for Michalak. For Laporte, it
could have
far-reaching consequences.