If 2018 was a year of what might have been for France, Guilhem Guirado insists 2019 will be different – starting with the Guinness Six Nations.
Les Bleus won two games from five in last year’s Championship, but came desperately close against Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
From Johnny Sexton’s 83rd-minute drop goal to a missed penalty from in front in a one-point loss to Wales, via a defeat in Scotland when they led with quarter of an hour remaining, France were made to pay in their struggles to close out matches.
They will have the chance to put that right against Wales on the opening night, Friday 1 February, and for Guirado, who will lead France for the fourth Championship running, restoring confidence will be key.
Speaking at the Guinness Six Nations Launch, he said: “We have high expectations of ourselves, but in order to fulfil these we need to raise our level, win games and prove we are better than many people think.
“We need to focus on ourselves. We know who the favourites are, but 2019 is going to be very different.
“We have one objective at this stage, and that is preparing well for next week’s opener against Wales.”
While there is plenty of experience in Jacques Brunel’s French squad, the coach has also called on some new blood, with five uncapped players included.
Among them is 19-year-old Romain Ntamack, the second of France’s Under-20s squad from 2018 that claimed the world title on home soil to be called up after Brive prop Demba Bamba, who made his debut in November.
That is a positive sign for France in the future, but Guirado knows the squad needs to help the youngsters settle in as quickly as possible.
He added: “We have a lot of young, promising players from the Under-20s breaking into the squad.
“They are full of confidence, but of course they are now entering a new phase with the senior game and experience is, of course, necessary in order to succeed at this level. We will be there to help them overcome this particular hurdle.
“There were positives to take from our performances in November, but these were not followed by good results.
“The players are playing well at their clubs, but the problem is the transition back to international rugby.
“We have struggled to build the team spirit we need. It has proven very difficult.”