Rugby-Proven World Cup pedigree boosts France

By Julien Pretot PARIS, Sept 5 (Reuters) - France's proven Rugby World Cup pedigree, an impressive warmup victory over hosts England and a favourable draw will all be factors in their favour at the 2015 tournament despite a deeply mediocre record under coach Philippe Saint-Andre. Since Saint-Andre, who will be replaced by long-time Toulouse manager Guy Noves after the tournament, took charge after the 2011 Cup the French have never finished higher than fourth in the Six Nations championship and were bottom of the table in 2013. But they have reached the World Cup final three times, albeit without winning once, and they have twice upset a favoured New Zealand side in the knockout stages. Last month they beat England in Paris after losing at Twickenham and there was plenty to enthuse their fans in the performances of both the forwards and backs. France have been drawn in Pool D with Six Nations' champions Ireland plus Italy, Canada and Romania. Their opening match is against Italy at Twickenham on Sept. 19 and, if they overcome a team who have beaten them twice in their last five encounters, the pool is likely to be decided in the final match against Ireland in Cardiff. The reward for victory over team who they have not defeated since 2011 is a likely quarter-final against Argentina rather than defending champions New Zealand. Saint-Andre is confident his team will deliver. "We are where we wanted to be after seven weeks of preparation," Saint-Andre after Les Bleus' England 25-20 win over England on Aug. 22. "It's good for the confidence of the squad. We showed we could compete with any team." Four years ago, France recovered from an embarrassing group match loss to Tonga to defeat England and Wales en route to the final, which they lost by a point to the All Blacks. However, since then the most unpredictable element has been Saint-Andre's constant chopping and changing with 17 halfback pairings since he took over from Marc Lievremont. Flyhalf Frederic Michalak, who will turn 33 during the tournament, clinched a place for his third World Cup with 17 points against England and he will probably partner Toulon team mate Sebastien Tillous-Borde. The French pack, with number eight Louis Picamoles in outstanding form, looked potentially formidable in both warmup matches against England while backs Wesley Fofana and Yoann Huget showed their class in the Paris match. Above all, French fans know that when their team get to the knockout stages, anything is possible at a World Cup. (Editing by John Mehaffey)