State of the Nation: France

Date published: June 29 2016

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With the June internationals now done and dusted, we look at the state of affairs in each of the competing nations. Next up, France.

The highlight of Philippe Saint-André’s reign as France coach started with a drawn series in Argentina followed by an unbeaten November series in 2012 – his first year in charge.

Guy Novès has just emulated the first part thanks to a 27-0 win in the second Test against Los Pumas, but unlike his predecessor, will be hoping that he can kick on from there.

It looked as though France were on a hiding to nothing with the Top 14 ongoing and players from the top four clubs in the country unavailable to tour.

And yet in the end Les Bleus were certainly the stronger team in Argentina, and look to have unearthed a couple of gems who will play a big role going forward.

The performances of Baptiste Serin will have surprised few who have watched the Bordeaux-Bègles scrum-half over the past couple of seasons, but even so the 22-year-old already looks like the top dog in France’s deepest position.

Barring injury he will definitely be involved in November, but just as pleasing for Novès will be the performance of his pack, which was excellent in the set-piece and regularly able to make ground with ball in hand – something that was a real issue in the Six Nations.

The return to fitness of Louis Picamoles helped in that regard, but Loann Goujon took another step forward – his future may lie at six – while Kevin Gourdon finally got his chance, and took it with both hands.

While all three can play at number eight, there was a surprising complementarity on show, and in large part thanks to Gourdon’s quick feet and support play. A modern back-row, he should feature going forward. The question for Novès will be whether he sticks with a trio of ball-carriers, or brings one of Wenceslas Lauret or Bernard Le Roux back in to shore up the defence.

Elsewhere the front five performed well, with Rémi Bonfils and Julien Ledevedec both showing they can cope at this level. The former faces plenty of competition to be Guilhem Guirado’s back-up, while the latter needs to prove that at 30 he can be an option for the future and his lineout work will help in that regard.

All in all it was a promising tour for the pack, with Jefferson Poirot also very impressive, but behind there are more reasons for caution, with the Argentinian victory in the first Test founded on greater athleticism in the backline.

The lack of wingers in French rugby is a huge concern, and not set to change any time soon, while fly-half remains an issue. François Trinh-Duc, released by Montpellier, did well enough and will be first choice by default after Jules Plisson struggled once more, this time also taking on captaincy duties in the first Test.

Novès will get the likes of Wesley Fofana and Virimi Vakatawa back in November, and they will need to provide the threat out wide that was often lacking on this tour.

Beyond what was learned about the players, the big win over Argentina was invaluable in the world rankings less than a year from the World Cup draw.

Up to seventh, France can boost their chances of being a second seed in 2019 with a good November where they face Samoa, Australia and the seemingly untouchable All Blacks.

Win two out of three and Novès will be on the right path. Then again PSA finished his first year in charge on a high before claiming the wooden spoon in 2013. Let’s hope the future is brighter four years on.

by Paul Eddison

Read the rest of our State of the Nation pieces following the June Tests right here.

Photo credit: Prensa UAR

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