France have made six changes to the squad which gathered for the match against New Zealand in November but coaches say continuity is key.
Starting with the most contentious position in French rugby, François Trinh-Duc remains out of the squad after fracturing his arm against Samoa in November, as Guy Novès has once again chosen Camille Lopez and Jean-Marc Doussain as his number tens.
During the November Tests, France’s head coach initially favoured Doussain but eventually chose Lopez to start against New Zealand.
If Novès is as committed to continuity as he says, it would be logical for him to favour the Clermont fly-half for the Six Nations.
Especially after France’s backs coach Jeff Dubois emphasised the partnership between Rémi Lamerat and Wesley Fofana, who also represent les Jaunards. Dubois told the FFR website: “The fact that our centres play together at club level lends more cohesion to the side.”
This penchant for Clermont players could also explain the inclusion of Scott Spedding over Brice Dulin. The Racing 92 back has outclassed his Clermont counterpart in every area this season: making four times more tackles and 600 more metres, yet Dulin missed out on selection.
France coaches have also spoken about the importance of keeping the ball alive, which makes Spedding an even stranger choice as Dulin has made double as many successful offloads as South-African born Spedding.
Maxime Médard may also have been a better option but was left out, despite performing well last weekend against Wasps.
In terms of attack, Fofana and Virimi Vakatawa made significant contributions in November so it is no surprise that their names appear in Novès’ list once more. However, while these two excelled in finding gaps in their opponent’s defence back in autumn, France still struggled to make it over the whitewash.
The addition of Yann David after almost eight years of absence from international rugby may not do much to remedy this. David has made only two clean breaks in the Top 14 this season and is yet to score any tries.
One man who may be able to make a difference however is Mohamed Boughanmi. The La Rochelle prop has scored three tries this season – quite something considering he’s only started six times.
As a product of the FFR’s youth training centre, the Pôle France, Boughanmi also fits well with FFR President Bernard Laporte’s vision of a foreigner-free France line-up.
Another front-row in Cyril Baille is named in the squad for a fourth time and deservedly so after his performance in the November Tests. Baille was key in keeping the French defence together, along with Kevin Gourdon and Louis Picamoles.
Unfortunately, les Bleus will have to make do without Charles Ollivon after the flanker suffered an ankle injury playing for Toulon against Racing 92 on New Year’s Day. Ollivon’s tackling ability will be missed but his absence is eased by the return of Loann Goujon.
In the Top 14 so far, Goujon has made more tackles than Ollivon, 95 in total, and has covered 720 metres with the ball in hand.
Despite a questionable choice at full-back, Novès has chosen a squad with a solid core – perfect for building on France’s November performances.
Although a clash with England is not the ideal Six Nations opener, this France squad may be talented enough to contend for a top three finish this year.