Novès’ squad points to exciting France

Date published: December 30 2015

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The Guy Novès era began to take shape yesterday as an initial list of 30 players were named for a preparation camp for the Six Nations, and true to his word, the former Toulouse boss looks set to bring in a more expansive game.

While his squad might lack out and out sprinters on the wings, where France are currently desperately short of options, there is no question that the backline is filled with more dynamism and pace than during the Philippe Saint-André era.

There are just 15 survivors from the World Cup squad, the remaining 16 split between five retirees, one injured and ten dropped.

It might seem drastic, and there are certainly those in Toulon who will be disappointed to see just one player picked, albeit the future captain Guilhem Guirado, but it shows what Novès is trying to do.

The biggest statement appears to be in the half-backs, where the first choice pair is expected to be Toulouse's uncapped Sébastien Bézy and Jules Plisson of Stade Français.

The former leads a new generation at Toulouse, and while they are struggling in Europe, the faith that has been placed in youth this season bodes well going forward.

Now 24, Bézy is arguably as important as any player at France's most successful club, and offers a sniping threat as well as a rugby brain reminiscent of his backs coach Jean-Baptiste Elissalde.

Plisson arrives in slightly less stellar form, but will reunite with Jeff Dubois, his backs coach at Stade until this season.

For a player who seemed to get worse the longer he stayed with PSA and co, a well-known mentor as well as the confidence of the staff could make all the difference.

Joining Bézy in an uncapped quintet is Jonathan Danty, the Stade centre who would have been capped already had it not been World Cup season.

Lazily compared to Mathieu Bastareaud because of their build and similar rugby upbringing, Danty is a far more athletic centre, who tries to keep the ball alive. Like Basta, one of those to miss out, Danty is excellent as an extra breakdown operator.

He could well link up with former U20s teammate Gael Fickou in midfield and if this video is anything to go by, that's a promising combination.

There are three new faces in the pack, as well as the welcome return of the likes of Wenceslas Lauret, in outstanding form for Racing, and Clermont's Sébastien Vahaamahina.

Bordeaux prop Jefferson Poirot will back up Eddy Ben Arous at loosehead and is similar in style. Like Ben Arous when he broke through, there are question marks over his scrummaging, but around the park he is hugely dynamic.

Second row Paul Jedrasiak broke through at the end of last season for Clermont, and offers a powerful, all-action option in the engine room. He also has the fire you need from your tight five, something club-mate Vahaamahina might lack at times.

Finally, Yacouba Camara gets his shot in the back row and already looks like he could be in for the long haul. His performance against Toulon on Sunday showed why he has been touted for so long. Very athletic, he seems a natural fit for the game that Novès wants to put in place and his ability in the lineout is an added advantage.

A second list of 30 will be announced in the New Year, as the French staff tries to get a look at as many players as possible. That may be more experimental, although hopefully the likes of Camille Chat, Kevin Gourdon and Marco Tauleigne get a look-in.

If France's Six Nations squad resembles the first list, there are still concerns – Alexandre Dumoulin is well behind Henry Chavancy as the best French centre at Racing, and the same applies to Damien Chouly in comparison with Alexandre Lapandry and Camille Gérondeau at Clermont.

It also remains to be seen how returning players like Hugo Bonneval, Maxime Médard and Plisson fit back into the side, while there is clearly a lack of depth on the wing, at fly-half and at tighthead behind Rabah Slimani.

However there is certainly the potential for a very exciting team in there, and while it's been all talk so far, Novès is at least giving himself the option of playing a more rounded game than his predecessor.

by Paul Eddison

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