Dynamic centre Wesley Fofana must stop pressuring himself to live up to his billing as the star of French rugby, assistant boss Patrice Lagisquet has said ahead of France’s Rugby World Cup Pool D match against Romania.
Fofana starts his first match of the tournament on Wednesday after recovering from a thigh injury sustained against Scotland in France’s final warm-up match.
Fofana, a powerful midfielder with explosive running skills, rose to prominence during the Six Nations two years ago with a headline-grabbing solo try against England, running almost 70m and breaking through several tackles.
He scored another fine try against Scotland, and also crossed against New Zealand at Eden Park in June 2013 to confirm his blossoming reputation.
But there have been only three tries since.
After missing France’s opening game – a 32-10 win against Italy last Saturday – he is raring to go and hopeful of adding to his international tally of 11 tries against Romania at London’s Olympic Stadium.
But Lagisquet, one of France’s finest wingers with 20 tries in 46 tests, urges the Clermont Ferrand star not to try too hard.
“He needs to detach himself from external concerns that everyone is expecting big things from him,” Lagisquet said.
“He needs to step back sufficiently to not go looking for these big things. It’s true, I find him a little too susceptible to the outside world, the media.”
He should be able to ease himself into the tournament, even with 13 changes to a young side led by veteran hooker Dimitri Szarzewski.
France hasn’t lost to Romania in 25 years.
“All the preparation has been orientated towards keeping players fresh,” Lagisquet said.
Romania boss Lyn Howells coached in Wales’ set-up at the 1999 World Cup and admits the tournament’s spectacle has spiralled in the intervening 16 years.
Howells believes Japan’s stunning victory over South Africa may make Romania’s job of pulling off the odd upset just that bit harder.
“When I was with Wales in 1999 I came at it with the view of it being a home World Cup,” said Howells.
“Now having the experience with Romania as an away nation it really is something quite special and different for me on a personal level.
“Japan’s victory was a great result for the tier-two nations and for the game of rugby, but in terms of our preparation it has not changed our approach to this match.
“I think it’s definitely scared the bigger teams not to take us or any of the smaller nations too easily.”
France: Brice Dulin, Sofiane Guitoune, Gael Fickou, Wesley Fofana, Noa Nakaitaci, Remi Tales, Morgan Parra, Louis Picamoles, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Yannick Nyanga, Alexandre Flanquart, Bernard Le Roux, Uini Atonio, Dimitri Szarzewski (capt), Vincent Debaty.
Res: Benjamin Kayser, Eddy Ben Arous, Nicolas Mas, Yoann Maestri, Damien Chouly, Rory Kockott, Frederic Michalak, Mathieu Bastareaud.
Romania: Catalin Fercu, Madalin Lemnaru, Paula Kinikinilau, Florin Vlaicu, Adrian Apostol, Danut Dumbrava, Florin Surugiu; Mihai Macovei (capt), Viorel Lucaci, Valentin Ursache, Johannes van Heerden, Valentin Poparlan, Paulica Ion, Otar Turashvili, Mihaita Lazar.
Res: Andrei Radoi, Andrei Ursache, Horatiu Pungea, Ovidiu Tonita, Stelian Burcea, Valentin Calafeteanu, Ionut Botezatu, Csaba Gal.