France captained, as in 2011, by fearless flanker Thierry Dusautoir, leave for the World Cup in fine fettle regardless of the many sceptics at home and abroadFrance captained, as in 2011, by fearless flanker Thierry Dusautoir, leave for the World Cup in fine fettle regardless of the many sceptics at home and abroad (AFP Photo/Lionel Bonaventure)
Paris (AFP) - Four years on and the perennial question arises: which France side will turn up at the World Cup?
The one that, of all the northern hemisphere nations, reserves their best rugby for confronting traditional favourites the All Blacks at the quadrennial showpiece?
Or the one that for all their natural talent sometimes looks a shambles.
A perfect example of this Jekyll and Hyde character was the manner they stumbled to defeat to Tonga four years ago before amazingly running the New Zealanders close in the final.
Truth be told things are no clearer four years on as the reign of Philippe Saint-Andre has failed to produce any more rhythm or consistency to their performances and results than under previous coach Marc Lievremont.
Indeed under Saint-Andre they have never finished higher than fourth in the Six Nations, filling that spot on three occasions, and even had the humbling experiencing of finishing rock bottom in 2013.
This maddening inconsistency was again reflected in their warm-up games, which ended honours even in their two matches against World Cup hosts England and a victory over an improving Scotland, who were more than holding their own at the Stade de France before the hosts grabbed a late winning try when the Scots were down to 14 men.
For Saint-Andre, who come what may at the World Cup, will stand down once France's campaign ends, there is no question that his troops, captained (as in 2011) by fearless flanker Thierry Dusautoir, leave for the tournament in fine fettle regardless of the many sceptics at home and abroad.
"We will leave for England full of confidence, on the back of managing to win two successive games!" said the 48-year-old former France skipper and dashing wing, whose overall record as coach reads 17 wins, two draws and 21 defeats.
"This evening (the win over Scotland last Saturday) was a mock exam, and the first real exam will be on September 19 against Italy and we are preparing for that."
Chief among the criticisms of Saint-Andre's period in charge is that like Lievremont he has chopped and changed his line-ups, no more so than with the half back partnerships which numbers 17 different variations in the 40 tests he has taken charge of.
However, if the last two games are a guide then the axis of Toulon duo scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde and mercurial Frederic Michalak will start against Italy, having filled those roles in the wins against England and Scotland.
Michalak -- who thrust himself onto the world stage at the 2003 World Cup though his star lost a bit of its brilliance when he went to pieces in the semi-final defeat to England -- has retained Saint-Andre's faith despite ongoing worries about his ability to disappear in tough games.
Certainly he will be one area that the battle-hardened Italians will target and the Irish too wll lick their lips at the thought of unsettling him early on if he makes it through to the final pool game which could decide who tops the table.
That will be crucial as the runner-up are most likely to face a quarter-final against the All Blacks -- who may quake at the thought of the French having lost to them twice in the knockout rounds -- with the winners facing probably Argentina, who are no pushovers themselves and have beaten both the Irish and the French in previous World Cups.
Saint-Andre, who will hand over the reins to legendary Toulouse coach Guy Noves, remains convinced that the disappointments of the past four years will not be repeated over the coming two months.
"One has to go there with the enthusiasm of the top of the class, as well as an unbelievable hunger and determination," said Saint-Andre.
"There is no brake in our hands, no limits to be respected.
"We are progressing, we are content with the what we are doing and we will prepare ourselves to win the World Cup, even if I will not say to you that we will be world champions."