Philippe Saint-Andre said he took a large part of the blame after his last game as France coach ended in a 62-13 World Cup humiliation by New Zealand, a team he dubbed the “Brazilians of rugby”.
Saint-Andre was jeered incessantly by French fans when his face was shown on the big screen at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium after Saturday’s quarter-final.
“To be honest I would rather be applauded than booed,” Saint-Andre said of the reaction to the nine-try mauling that sees the All Blacks progress to a semi-final against South Africa. The French will head to the airport for a flight home.
“I’m mostly disappointed for the players today because we cannot say they didn’t give everything.
“In our sport we have to show dignity in victory or defeat,” the former France captain and winger said.
“Congratulations to New Zealand on an exceptional performance.
But when asked how much of the fault was his, he added: “I must take a lot of it. There is no problem there.
“I have had a lot of blows over the last four years, but I had no problem with that after I accepted the post.
“I’ve had some very good moments with the players and staff and I think the players will stand up again and will keep fighting for France.”
Saint-Andre, who lost 23 out of 45 games in charge, has never been the most popular coach. He took over from Marc Lievremont following the 2011 World Cup, in which France lost 8-7 to the All Blacks in the final.
He has used an enormous number of players, constantly tinkering with combinations seen as crucial to driving the team. Half-backs, midfield and the front-row were never nailed down.
And with little training time given to international players because of the demands of the lucrative Top 14 domestic league, Saint-Andre has often railed against benefits other teams have by spending more time together.
“After such a defeat, the feeling of powerlessness and impotence we had for most of the game, there’s not much more to say,” skipper Thierry Dusautoir said.
“To leave the competition in this way is complicated. We never had enough space to exist in this match. At times there were some good moves but invevitablly there was a counter attack or we were stopped.”
Saint-Andre hailed the All Blacks for a sublime performance built on the power of their pack, the tight eight offering the rapid backline a platform to showcase some silky off-loading skills.
“They are the Brazilians of rugby, they are fast and they win 80 per cent of the duels,” he said.
“At the end of the first half we were almost there but we conceded another try and after half-time there was that yellow card and every time we lost a ball they punished us severely.
“We have good rugby players, but New Zealand have players who are reactive, they show speed and technique of the highest quality.”