Six Nations: The lowdown on France

France enter a new era with Guy Noves at the helm promising to address the dull brand of rugby being played

With Philippe Saint-André leaving his role as French head coach after several underwhelming seasons, legendary Toulouse coach Guy Novès has taken his place. But can he bring back the France of old? John O'Sullivan previews France. Video: David Dunne

 

Coach: Guy Noves

After a hugely successful coaching tenure spanning 22 years, ten Top 14 championships and four Heineken Cups with Toulouse, Noves took over the French national team at the start of November following their humiliating World Cup exit at the hands of New Zealand. The 61-year-old has a huge task on his hands as he attempts to reinvigorate a French team surely down on confidence after their performances last October. He has already looked to do that by taking the step of dropping Mathieu Bastareaud from his squad, bringing in eight new faces along the way.

Strengths

Undoubtedly the key feature of the French game comes in the set-piece where they’re very strong. In Louis Picamoles they possess one of the best number eights in the game. Having their opening two matches at home (firstly against Italy before Ireland travel to Paris) should benefit them as, it is hoped, will the appointment of mobile hooker Guilhem Guirado as captain. Noves has stated that he wants to bring the flair back to French rugby and Picamoles performing at his best will be key to whether or not that strategy comes off. The abundance of pace in the back three should also help.

Weaknesses

As is always the case with French teams - be it in rugby or soccer - it’s almost impossible to predict what sort of side will turn up. A solitary Six Nations title in their last eight attempts does not comply with the standards set by French rugby and it’s hard to see it changing this year. Getting the right blend at 9-10-12 and 13 will be crucial and could be what makes or breaks this campaign for Les Bleus. They desperately need Jules Plisson or Jean-Marc Doussain to pull the strings at outhalf and settle on a midfield partner for Wesley Fofana.

Key man: Louis Picamoles

The 29-year-old number eight ooks very much to be in the prime of his career and was one of the few positive performers at the World Cup. The recent deal to move to Northampton next season is sure to have re-invigorated him further and he will hope to impress his new club by putting in a strong performance at the Six Nations. Indeed, after being dropped for most of 2014 by Philipe Saint-Andre he came back into the French squad with all guns blazing at last year’s Six Nations and at the World Cup. The current Toulouse player also brings huge experience to the team with 51 caps and six international tries to his name.

Last year

A disappointing campaign last year saw France finish fourth, picking up just two victories - against Scotland and Italy. An opening day 15-8 win over Scotland looked to stand them in good stead but they were brushed aside by Ireland in their second game. A loss to Wales was followed by a comprehensive 29-0 win over Italy before a heavy defeat to England in the final game saw them end the championship on a bad note. Their disappointing World Cup campaign only sufficed to further add to a dull year for French international rugby.

One to watch: Sébastien Bézy

Nove’s coached Sébastien at Toulouse for three years, so it was no surprise that he included the scrumhalf in his first French squad; one of five uncapped players. Bézy will compete for the jersey with Clermont Auvergne’s Morgan Parra and Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92). Bézy has been chosen ahead of Rory Kockott, who went to the World Cup with France; like the South African born scrumhalf, Bézy is a very reliable place-kicker. Bézy is first choice at Toulouse ahead of fellow international Jean-Marc Doussain and David Mélé and, according to sources in France, is favoured to begin the Six Nations in a similar role for France. He possesses an excellent all-round game, is strong and quick with good instincts and is a very capable link between backs and forwards.

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