x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Lionel Nallet: It is now or never for France

The second-row forward knows he could be playing his last 80 minutes in a Les Bleus jersey if France perform against England as they did against Tonga in their last match.

After hitting rock bottom last week, the French renaissance has begun and Les Bleus will be playing for national pride as well as a Rugby World Cup semi-final spot when they take on England on Saturday.

France's form and confidence bottomed out after a shocking 19-14 defeat to Tonga in the group stage last weekend.

The players held a heated afternoon debriefing session the following day where players were able to express a few home truths and clear the air, followed by a more intense training session than usual on Monday.

Now, the reinvigorated French players are speaking with determination about facing their archrivals.

"There's a lot of motivation, everyone wants to try and save our honour in this match," Lionel Nallet, the veteran lock, said yesterday. "We still have a right to believe. We're still here."

Nallet, who will win his 68th cap on Saturday, says that the time for sulking is over and the players must now "stop asking questions, stop saying that training's too long, stop saying that things aren't going well".

Two things seem to have changed since the Tonga defeat.

Firstly, the players got together on Sunday afternoon for a team bonding session to get things out in the open.

Secondly, Monday's hard-tackling training session helped players vent a lot of the frustration that had been building since a scrappy opening win against Japan.

"We spoke among men, and told each other things," Julien Pierre, the second-row forward, said. "Maybe that's what was missing since we arrived, working for the team and for the jersey. It's a shame that we need to have our backs to the wall to respond."

"French culture, not just [French] rugby is like this," Dimitri Yachvili, the scrum-half, added.

Nallet thinks the players were being too nice, steering clear of criticism for fear of upsetting one another.

"We live together, we like each other, and maybe we didn't want to be aggressive toward one another," Nallet said. "We weren't aggressive on the field, either."

The no-holds barred team meeting appears to have done the players a lot of good.

"Everyone wanted to say 'I got it wrong'. Since we've arrived in New Zealand we haven't had the mentality [required] to conquer anything whatsoever," Nallet said. "Everyone wanted to take their share of the blame and tell the others they will be ready this weekend."

Nallet is also driven by the fear of being possibly just 80 minutes away from the end of his World Cup career.

While the 35-year-old Nallet is angry at how poorly he played in the defeat to Tonga, it made him realise just what may happen if the team put in a similarly poor performance against England at Eden Park.

"It's my last World Cup, I'm 35. I won't experience this again," Nallet. "I'm telling myself 'What on earth have I been doing?' These are perhaps my last 80 minutes in the French jersey."