Michalak at the heart of France's growing crisis

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The Stade de France is not exactly Walmington-on-Sea, but France's Dad's Army provided an impressive take-off of Captain Mainwaring and his stumbling men.

These old French chaps (eight of yesterday's team were over 30) at times made Corporal Jones look positively sprightly. For more than 50 minutes, France's rugby team looked as bumbling and idiotic as Dad's Army on manoeuvres.

In the end, France beat Italy 37-12, scored five tries to none and enjoyed a consummate victory over the outclassed Azzurri. The fact was, though, whatever spin their coach, Bernard Laporte, wishes to put on the game, that this match confirmed that France are going nowhere towards their stated ambition of winning the World Cup in their own country in 17 months' time.

France coated their victory with 21 points in the last 16 minutes against a tiring Italian side, but that never began to gloss over their inadequacies. They were abysmal for long periods, as riddled with mistakes as an old cupboard with woodworm.

The very fact that Laporte had resorted to the old guard spoke volumes for the pressure under which he is currently operating. To return to players such as Raphael Ibañez, Olivier Magne and Thomas Castaignède represented humble pie for Laporte, who had not wanted to choose players who had left France to play their rugby. To bring all three back, as well as load the team with other veterans such as Thomas Lièvremont, who clearly is not quick enough, is an appal-ling indictment of the failure of most of the younger brigade.

No one has failed more palpably than Frédéric Michalak. His performance and eventual substitution against Ireland two weeks ago nearly led to a social revolution when Laporte dubbed Michalak's critics "middle-class shit". But the bourgeoisie were proved right in their judgement yesterday when the Toulousain again failed to provide the direction, authority and control this French team so badly need.

As Michalak fumbled and stuttered, the first 55 minutes belonged to Italy. They attempted little and created virtually nothing, but erected a solid and aggressive defence that threw the French completely off their stride. There was not a scintilla of rhythm or flow to the French game, and Laporte must have been alarmed at the ease with which such a modest side could put his team right off their game.

France were hammered backwards in the tackle and had no room in which to play. This was about as much to the liking of runners and gliders such as Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Michalak as a plate of Cockney eel pie. Michalak's inability to direct and orchestrate his team remains a glaring problem for Laporte. How can he possibly go into another World Cup with the same man at No 10 who bombed, mentally and physically, in the semi-final of the last tournament? Michalak lacks the character to run a game with authority.

Thus, France looked in vain for someone to take a scrappy, messy match by the scruff of the neck and dominate it for their benefit. The Italians have no penetration whatsoever outside their pack, with the possible exception of Mirco Bergamasco. Yet they exposed France as a muddled outfit short of ideas and presence. The world's best teams, New Zealand and South Africa, will study this tape and believe they have the key to France's elimination at the World Cup.

France need some decision- makers at half-back, greater pace to assist the excellent Yannick Nyanga in the back row, and more devil and dog in the front five, Ibañez excepted. He alone provides such qualities.

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