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New coach Brunel wants to put France back among elite

(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

AP Sports Writer

PARIS (AP) After years of disappointing results for France, newly-appointed coach Jacques Brunel wants to put the Tricolors back where they belong, among the elite of World rugby.

Brunel, who replaced Guy Noves last month, said during his first press conference on Monday that his ambition is "to put France back to the level where it often was, so it will be among the Six Nations contenders every year."

Brunel coached Italy from 2012-16 and was assistant coach for France from 2001-07, when he was in charge of the forwards.

During that period, France won the Six Nations four times - including the Grand Slam in 2004.

Noves, who led Toulouse to four European Cups and 10 French titles, was given the helm of the France squad following four unimpressive years under coach Philippe Saint-Andre that culminated with a crushing 62-13 loss to New Zealand at the 2015 World Cup.

He failed in his job of improving the team and was fired only two years into the job with a terrible record.

Brunel has less than two years to prepare his players for the 2019 World Cup. He has even less time to get ready for the next edition of the Six Nations next month, and his game tactics will be "very simple."

Brunel is not promising a revolution of style, convinced that speed and intensity are the basic elements for success.

"We need to set up things very quickly," Brunel said, adding that he would use a large part of the players who regularly featured during the Noves era.

"But it's complicated to make things simple," he warned.

France, which finished next-to-last in the 2016 Six Nations and third in 2017, will open at home against Ireland on Feb. 3.

Brunel said his most urgent task is to restore confidence, after just seven wins in 21 matches during Noves' poor tenure.

"The accumulation of negative results has not reinforced their confidence, which took a hit," Brunel said.

In addition to Brunel, the French federation has also appointed a new coaching staff made of former internationals Sebastien Bruno, Julien Bonnaire and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde. Brunel is confident the new set-up will have an immediate impact on his players.

"Hopefully we will be able to create a favorable climate that will allow us to go and get victories," Brunel said.

Noves was fired after he failed to respond to the tough challenge set by French federation president Bernard Laporte of winning three of the four November tests. France lost twice to New Zealand and once to South Africa.

It almost became four defeats as Japan was a missed conversion from beating France for the first time in a 23-23 draw.

That patch of bad results came after France lost three tests heavily away to South Africa in June.

Updated January 8, 2018