Pascal Pape has wasted little time laying down the law to his France team, warning them that “losing is not an option” when they start their Six Nations Championship campaign against England in Paris.
The Stade Francais lock has been handed the captaincy for the tournament, after Les Bleus suffered the major blow of losing their outstanding skipper and flanker Thierry Dusautoir to a torn tendon in his bicep.
France simply have to improve this year, having taken the wooden spoon after an awful 2013 campaign which included just one victory, over Scotland.
This year France have the chance to build early momentum as they kick off the tournament with two home games.
But it is the outcome of the first of those fixtures which is likely to define the French campaign, coming as it does against England.
France have lost their last three Six Nations meetings with Engand, but Pape has made it clear a repeat would be unacceptable.
“As for France against England, it is a mythical match,” he said. “It is a game which plays a big part in the history of French rugby.
“Every match against England is always very intense and it will be quite a fight.
“It’s also the first match of this year, last year was very difficult for us, but we have learned a lot from our defeats.
“This season will be better, we have to rebuild that trust with our fans and we do that by winning at the Stade de France. Losing is not an option.”
Pape and head coach Philippe Saint-Andre both bemoaned the number of overseas players plying their trade in the French top-flight at the Six Nations tournament launch in London, believing it has hindered the development of French talent. But it is an agreement with the French clubs which could give France’s Six Nations aspirations a boost.
For the first time, the French squad players in line to face England at the Stade de France did not play for their clubs in last weekend’s round of Top 14 fixtures.
It brings Les Bleus in line with their Six Nations rivals and Pape hopes the extended preparation time allowed will lead to greater success for the national side.
“We are very happy that we have this extra week in camp,” said the 33-year-old. “It puts us at the same level as our opponents.”