When France face England at the Rugby World Cup on Saturday, there will be more than just a place at the top of Pool C on the line for Les Bleus.
They may have been misfiring at this tournament so far, hobbling to a 23-21 victory against Tonga last weekend, but when it comes to Le Crunch they will be fired up – particularly given the humiliating 44-8 defeat suffered at Twickenham during this year’s Six Nations.
Following three underwhelming victories so far at the World Cup and reports of a mutiny behind the scenes, they have plenty to prove to those questioning them back home too.
They looked to be cruising when 17-7 up at half-time against Tonga but ceded territory to the Pacific Islanders’ kicking game throughout the second half and were lucky to come away with four points in the face of a late comeback.
It led to strong criticism back home, with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal calling on the players to channel the spirit of their 2011 World Cup campaign and “take control” from the coaching staff.
Eight years ago the team sidelined coach Marc Lievremont after losing to Tonga and went on to reach the final, where they only lost 8-7 to New Zealand.
“Take control guys, take the power, because there are coaches all over the place. Our team spirit is almost non-existent,” Boudjellal said in a video blog. “Individually, we have players who are world class. Collectively, for several years, that hasn’t been the case.
“Honestly, I don’t understand. Something is going wrong, so it’s over to you guys. Tell the coaches to go on holiday. Write your story yourself.”
It comes after a training session on Monday was cancelled with reports in France suggesting that captain Guilhem Guirado had fallen out with head coach Jacques Brunel and his replacement-in-waiting, Fabien Glathie, who is currently an assistant.
Former France captain Galthie was brought into the set-up in April following a disappointing Six Nations that included three defeats and has seen pressure on Brunel mount.
Hooker Guirado looks unlikely to start against England is said to feel increasingly marginalised by management who do not consult him on key decisions. He also endured a strained relationship with Galthie at Toulon during the 2017-18 season, French newspapers claim.
Despite the coaches’ efforts to hand the armband to Jefferson Poirot, players including Gael Fickou and Maxime Medard have rallied behind their captain.
“There is no debate on the captain,” Fickou said. “Guirado is our captain. He always has that influence on our set-up, he always speaks. We are all behind him.”
The lack of cohesion in the team has been apparent and while their notoriously strong pack has not yet clicked into gear, there have been moments of individual quality among the backs to give England reason enough to fear.
Romain Ntamack, 20, has taken the No10 jersey from Camille Lopez and fellow youngsters, Antoine Dupont, 22, and Damian Penaud, 23, combined with the experienced heads of Yoann Huget, Fickou and Medard are among the likely candidates to fill a formidable back line.
They pride themselves on playing unpredictable rugby and that certainly looks to be what England can expect given the apparent heated exchanges in the dressing room.
For some teams the high emotions, division between players and staff, and sub-par performances would spell disaster going into a challenge such as the one England pose.
It could be for the French too. Or, as in 2011, the necessity of rallying together and uniting behind their captain could spark the improvement they need to go deep into the tournament.