PARIS // Six Nations champions France have no explanation for why they fell apart so dramatically in Saturday's 59-16 destruction at the hands of Australia, although the coach Marc Lievremont accepts responsibility for the second-half humiliation.
France lost their fifth straight Test to the Wallabies since Lievremont took charge three years ago, and his constant tinkering with the side backfired spectacularly at the Stade de France.
"It's obviously hard to find a rational explanation for this debacle, we played against an exceptional Australian team," Lievremont said. "I will take responsibility for this enormous defeat. I think I've got a quality squad that works hard and has a big margin for improvement. But it's beyond me to explain the unexplainable."
No 8 Sebastien Chabal says the players need immediate answers for their capitulation before next year's Six Nations campaign starts in February.
"We can't leave each other and come back in four months time with this dragging on," Chabal said.
Last year, when they had beaten Samoa and South Africa, France headed into their final Test against New Zealand in optimistic mood only to be easily beaten 39-12.
This time, Lievremont's team beat Fiji and Argentina and spoke confidently about dominating in the scrum and exposing weaknesses in the Australian defence that were apparent in the Wallabies' recent 35-18 defeat to England.
The French conceded seven tries in total despite being level 13-13 at half-time.
"It's pretty hard to understand how we can concede nearly fifty points in half an hour," Lievremont said.
Chabal points to how the French failed to rally together as a contributing factor.
"We conceded two tries in three minutes after the break and then we fell apart completely," he said. "There was no communication, we all withdrew into ourselves."
Lievremont's team selection may have contributed to the disintegration.
He pitted veteran winger Aurelien Rougerie at centre against one of world rugby's most talented midfields, while the veteran centre Damien Traille played fly-half in a total mis-match against Quade Cooper.
"We couldn't get any ball at all and we ran around after them," Chabal said. "It's more than a slap. I've taken a few of those in my career, (but) this was a total hammering."
With less than a year until two-time finalists France open their World Cup campaign against the hosts New Zealand, the French still appear to be intimidated by southern hemisphere opposition.
"It's a collective defeat, you could even say a resignation," Chabal said. "It's more than a slip up. It will call certain things into question, maybe the style of play we want to develop and our way of achieving it."
France opens their Six Nations defence against Scotland on February 5, but beating European opposition is of small comfort.
"We struggle to compete against the big teams. You could also say that this is a setback of French rugby," Chabal said. "But that wouldn't explain the (56) points we conceded. We can't hide behind that."