Six Nations: France still among favourites despite injury problems

Fabien Galthié will be hoping that his depth-building project bears fruit in this Six Nations

Last year

A flawless 2022, results-wise. Defending Grand Slam champions with only Ireland coming close to troubling them in the Six Nations – and even that never looked like a game they would lose. Some more circumspect performances in the Autumn but they did what good teams do, win when not at their best.

Australia came closest to turning them over in Paris, only for Damian Penaud’s wonder score to turn the game, while Fabien Galthié's side also came out on top of a brutal encounter with the Springboks.

Results: (6N) v Italy (h) W 37-10; v Ireland (h) W 30-24; v Scotland (a) W 17-36; v Wales (a) W 9-13; v England (h) W 25-13. Summer tour: v Japan (a) W 23-42; v Japan (a) W 15-20. Autumn Nations Series: v Australia (h) W 30-29; v South Africa (h) W 30-26; v Japan (h) W 35-17.



Few teams come into the competition with as many injuries as France, though England are also up there. Jonathan Danty and Cameron Woki, two of last year’s regular starters, are out, while frequent bench options Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros and Maxime Lucu (Antoine Dupont’s usual back-up) are also missing. La Rochelle hooker Pierre Bougarit, the most likely replacement for Mauvaka, is injured too.

Galthié has at least been boosted by the return of Gabin Villiere, who at one point looked likely to miss the start of the tournament through injury problems of his own. One would think he and Penaud will keep up their double act on the wings, but Lyon flier Ethan Dumortier is pushing them hard.

It is a testament to the depth the French backroom staff have spent the last number of years developing that, even with a raft of absences, this still looks a formidable outfit. They will still field a strong, experienced first XV, though who fills in for Danty at 12 is the most intriguing call. Some 12/13 combination of Gael Fickou and Yoram Moefana seems most likely.

Forwards: Uini Atonio (La Rochelle), Cyril Baille (Toulouse), Clement Castets (Stade Français), Sipili Falatea (Bordeaux-Begles), Mohamed Haouas (Montpellier), Reda Wardi (La Rochelle), Gaetan Barlot (Castres), Julien Marchand (Toulouse), Teddy Baubigny (Toulon), Bastien Chalureau (Montpellier), Thibaud Flament (Toulouse), Thomas Lavault (La Rochelle), Romain Taofifenua (Lyon), Paul Willemse (Montpellier), Gregory Alldritt (La Rochelle), Alexandre Becognee (Montpellier), Paul Boudehent (La Rochelle), Yacouba Camara (Montpellier), Dylan Cretin (Lyon), François Cros (Toulouse), Anthony Jelonch (Toulouse), Sekou Macalou (Stade Français), Charles Ollivon (Toulon).

Backs: Baptiste Couilloud (Lyon), Antoine Dupont (Toulouse), Nolann Le Garrec (Racing 92), Antoine Hastoy (La Rochelle), Matthieu Jalibert (Bordeaux-Begles), Romain Ntamack (Toulouse), Louis Bielle-Biarrey (Bordeaux-Begles), Ethan Dumortier (Lyon), Damian Penaud (Clermont), Matthis Lebel (Toulouse), Gabin Villiere (Toulon), Pierre-Louis Barassi (Toulouse), Julien Delbouis (Stade Français), Gael Fickou (Racing 92), Emilien Gailleton (Pau), Yoram Moefana (Bordeaux-Begles), Romain Buros (Bordeaux-Begles), Melvyn Jaminet (Toulouse), Thomas Ramos (Toulouse).

France will still field a strong, experienced first XV, though who fills in for Jonathan Danty at 12 is the most intriguing call

Coach: Fabien Galthié

The goggled assassin. Since taking over in 2019, Galthié has rebuilt one of the juggernauts of the game. The consensus opinion was that if France ever got their act together off the pitch, on it they would quickly become one of the world’s best.

Fast forward three years and no longer do you hear cribbing about France’s fitness levels letting them down, while the Top14 has become a brutal, competitive league that creates a conveyor belt of depth.

Galthié had to wait until last year to win his first title – and Grand Slam – as coach, but now that duck has been broken, France look to be peaking nicely ahead of their home World Cup.

Key player

Dupont is the easy, boring answer. The return of former skipper Charles Ollivon from a long-term injury creates a selection headache in the backrow, with the Toulon man arguably the best all-round loose forward at Galthié's disposal.

Damian Penaud should be as big a threat as ever out wide but, in terms of individual importance, it’s hard to look past Gael Fickou. The on-field general of defence coach Shaun Edwards, his physicality and workrate are often unmatched. To boot, he will probably be asked to fill the Danty-sized hole in midfield, replacing a player that has been key to France’s first phase attack.


France are up there with Ireland as the favourites, with many only preferring Andy Farrell’s side due to home advantage. This is France’s “harder year” with trips to Dublin and Twickenham on the schedule. That England game in particular looks tricky, given that it comes in round three, when Steve Borthwick will have had more time to implement his changes as new head coach.

Even with those daunting away fixtures, if France survive in Dublin in round two, they’ll be best placed to win the title.

Schedule: v Italy (a) February 5th, 15.00; v Ireland (a) February 11th, 14.15pm; v Scotland (h) February 26th, 15.00; v England (a), March 11th, 16.45pm; v Wales (h) March 18th, 14.45pm.

Odds: win Six Nations 15/8; Grand Slam 9/2

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist