In the week leading up to the start of the 2016 RBS Six Nations, Craig Wright will be looking at each of the nations bidding to be crowned champions on 19 March. Next up, he looks at France’s hopes of reclaiming top spot in Europe’s premier competition.
Rugby World Cup recap: The French rugby public is still reeling from that defeat to New Zealand in the quarter-final. Granted, the All Blacks went on to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy, but shipping 62 points in a knockout match? That’s unheard of. Until then, the French had flattered to deceive, going down tamely to the Irish after initial good performances against Italy and Canada. There were some positive moments, but most of France is very willing to just consign the tournament to the history books.
State of the Nation: After that mauling by New Zealand, Les Bleus underwent a major overhaul of personnel. Guy Noves replaced Phillippe Saint-Andre as head coach, with the former Toulouse coach tasked with restoring France’s former glories. Captain Thierry Dusautoir has retired along with the likes of Pascal Pape and Nicolas Mas, with Guilhem Guirado succeeding Dusautoir in leading the side. Noves has also been ruthless with squad selection, ignoring reputations in favour of current form. As a result, there is no place for Mathieu Bastareaud (dropped) and Francois Trinh-Duc (injured), with the likes of Jonathan Danty and Yacouba Camara included. A dangerous squad, but it might take time to come together for Noves.
One to watch: Paul Jedrasiak (below). With Pascal Pape retiring, a space has become available in the French second row that many seasoned pundits are expecting will be filled by the young Clermont lock. The 22 year-old has learnt his trade from the likes of Nathan Hines and Jamie Cudmore during his time at the club, so don’t expect him to be the shy and retiring type! An impressive athlete and savvy lineout operator, don’t be surprised if he earns his first cap in this Six Nations.
What they said:
Guy Noves: “We should stop talking about the New Zealand game. It’s getting quite tiresome now. We’re looking to the future with an exciting group of players.”
Guilhem Guirado: “I don’t have a particular style of captaincy. I trust the technical staff to do right by the team, and then it is between myself and the players as to how I captain.”
Title chances: It’s the oldest cliché in the rugby book, but France are predictably unpredictable. If this squad clicks, then they’re going to be very exciting to watch and could romp to the title. If they don’t start well though, it could be a long six weeks for Noves and co. A home tie against Italy in round one should yield a victory, but it’s how they deal with away games that will show us the real mettle of the new France. Expect to see them in mid-table, but don’t be surprised to see them at either extreme!