LONDON (Reuters) - France will miss out on a starter and skip straight to ‘roast beef' for their opening game in the 2014 Six Nations, coach Philippe Saint-Andre said on Wednesday.
After finishing with the wooden spoon for the first time since 1999 last year, the French team might have hoped for an easier opening game to assert themselves in this year's tournament.
Instead they face England on February 1 at the Stade de France, desperate for a win to bury the memories of a disappointing 2013 tournament when they won only one game.
"We don't start with the starter, we start with the main course, with roast beef straight away," joked Saint-Andre, using a favourite French nickname for the English.
Speaking at the launch of the 2014 tournament, he said a win against England was crucial to set the tone not only for the tournament but also the rest of the year.
"The first game gives a tempo for the entire international season. Last year we lost against Italy so this year it's a huge game against England. The atmosphere will be special."
This is the first year that Saint-Andre has managed to agree a Six Nations release agreement with French clubs, meaning his players do not have to play in the French Top 14, a week before the tournament's first fixture.
"It's the first time the 23 players will not play a league game this week and we'll have a two week training camp. It's very important for this team," he said.
"This year will be the first time we have at least the same preparation as the five other nations in this competition. It's a huge, huge difference for the players."
France have a remarkable record of winning the last four tournaments the year after a British and Irish Lions Tour, in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Following the Lions tour of Australia last year, and a Six Nations fixture list that sees them play three home games, France's young squad may fancy their chances of redeeming themselves after a catastrophic 2013.
But Saint-Andre insists his team are by no means favourites for the tournament, and instead would rather embrace their position as underdogs.
"When you finish at the bottom in 2013 it's difficult to say we're favourites in 2014. I think Wales and England are the two favourites of this competition, but French rugby likes to be the outsider.
"The Lions finished very late in July (in 2013) and they play more games a year than normal. Also we have three games at home (this year) so maybe it's a good year for us."
France are missing a number of familiar faces from their preliminary 30-man squad with flyhalf Frederic Michalak omitted after a lack of club rugby and flanker Thierry Dusautoir, scrumhalf Morgan Parra, centre Florian Fritz and wing Vincent Clerc all missing through injury.
French captain Pascal Pape, standing in for Dusautoir , said without such players the team must win to restore faith in themselves.
A win against England, in what he describes as a ‘mythical match', would be the perfect start.
"The first match against England will be a difficult one but the team is very motivated and will give their very best. It is a mythical match. It's a part of French rugby history," said the Stade Francais lock.
"Last season was very difficult but we learnt from our defeats. What we need is to rebuild the trust in ourselves and this will happen if we win. We'll be at the Stade de France (for the first game) and losing is no option."
(Editing by Rex Gowar)