Six Nations 2021: A bluffer’s guide to France

Much expected of a talented crop of young prospects under the guidance of Galthie

France head coach Fabien Galthie (R) and general manager Raphael Ibanez have an impressive crop of players at their disposal. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

France head coach Fabien Galthie (R) and general manager Raphael Ibanez have an impressive crop of players at their disposal. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

 

What’s that analogy about people in glasshouses not throwing stones?

I presume that’s a reference to how French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu demanded health guarantees in relation to testing and bio secure bubbles against the Covid-19 virus before she agreed to allow France to play in the Six Nations tournament. While she wanted pristine protocols observed and by inference suggested that other countries might not be as rigorous in testing procedures, a sizable number of a French under-20 rugby squad at a training camp in Portugal tested positive for Covid-19 in January.

RMC Sport broke the story, confirmed by the French Rugby Federation (FFR) that 13 players and management tested positive for Covid-19 during a fourth round of tests – the first three were clear – at a training camp in Faro and were forced to self-isolate in Portugal before returning to France on January 24th.

Surely French rugby is pretty keen for the tournament to go ahead given its rude health on the pitch and harmony in the coaching booth?

Absolument. The French clubs and the FFR are enjoying an entente cordiale with regard to player release for the tournament, a rare accord, while the bonhomie at Marcoussis and the training camp in Nice, that esprit de corps gives Les Bleus coaching and management team led by Fabien Galthie and Raphael Ibanez carte blanche to formulate a strong challenge even without the considerable talents of Romain Ntamack and Virimi Vakatawa who are hors de combat. It is the perfect milieu for France to become au fait with the patterns that can make them successful, that power and panache that will force their opponents to cry, ‘Zut Alors.’

No more Franglais?

Nope, I promise, I got it all out there, like a hairball.

Have France found the peace and prosperity in an environment that will allow them to flourish and stop getting in their own way?

It certainly seems that way, at least for the moment. The Galthie/Ibanez ticket has the respect of the players – something that couldn’t always be ascribed to previous regimes – and that atmosphere, the positivity and the buy-in have allowed France to move forward quickly in playing terms. Galthie has been happy to introduce fistfuls of young players, largely but not exclusively taken, from back to back World Junior Championship winning French under-20s teams in 2018 and 2019.

When you consider that players of the ability of Cameron Woki (added when Gregory Alldritt picked up an injury and then retained) and Sekou Macalou weren’t chosen in the original Six Nations squad it underlines their lavish resources. They also have excellent senior players in key positions.

Wasn’t there an example of that selection philosophy when France brought their JCT team with a couple of overage ‘bangers’ to play the English seniors in the Autumn Nations Cup final at Twickenham in December?

Yes it was a largely young team but 11 of the matchday 23 were included in France’s extended squad for the Six Nations that is largely populated by players between the ages of 21 and 25. Some have been sent back to play with their clubs who won’t be involved in the squad for the game against Italy in Rome while two or three others were called up. There seems to be a correlation between form and selection.

What about the superstar?

It’s tempting to say which one but at a guess that’s a nod to Toulouse scrumhalf Antoine Dupont. He can do everything, link, break, pass and kick, is a pacy, beautifully balanced, powerful runner with great vision and is a nightmare to contain. He’s plenty of quality around him too even without his buddy Ntamack. Louis Carbonel and Mathieu Jalibert are excellent young outhalves.

Can they win the tournament?

They denied England a Grand Slam last year but this time travel to London. If they can beat Ireland at the Aviva stadium in round two it might just give them the impetus and confidence to go one better than last year’s runner-up spot. Plus they’ll be great to watch.

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