Planet Rugby

Six Nations Preview: France

26th January 2014 16:33

Share:

France assistant coach Patrice Lagisquet L talks to his players

France: At last, les Bleus have been given time to prepare

With the Six Nations kicking off this weekend, we take a closer look at the prospects of each team, starting with France.

After two very poor years, Philippe Saint-André has promised that 2014 will be the year of revival, but the XV de France will have to do it without Thierry Dusautoir.

Last Year: Having finished fourth in the 2012 Six Nations with a team that had reached the World Cup Final just a few months earlier, it was hard to imagine Philippe Saint-André's second Championship being much worse. Yet it was.

Defeats in Rome, at home to Wales and at Twickenham made for an horrific start. A draw in Paris against Ireland meant that victory at Murrayfield on the last weekend wasn't enough to avoid the Wooden Spoon - France's first in the six-team era and only their second in 44 years. Failure was an understatement.

Unimaginative tactics, dubious selections, issues at fly-half and a bench that made very little impact - it was a campaign that bore many more lessons than results. PSA blamed the overloaded domestic season and limited preparation time. And while those excuses carried some merit, they fell some way short of explaining France's lack of attacking spark.

This year: Not for the first time, how France will fare is the biggest mystery of the Championship. They have a very good draw - including three home games - and, for the first time in years, enough time to prepare with a extra week given to the national squad before the opening game against England at the Stade de France .

Injuries in key positions have, however, severely dented their chances. The silver lining to last June's winless tour of New Zealand was the emergence of Rémi Talès as the number one fly-half, a position were les Bleus desperately need consistency. But the Castres pivot has been ruled out of the first game with a biceps injury and with Camille Lopez also sidelined and Fred Michalak out of favour, the French attack is set to be led by either an uncapped youngster (Jules Plisson), a retreaded scrum-half (Jean-Marc Doussain) or François Trinh-Duc, who has been added to the squad at the eleventh hour after a year out in the cold. There is no need to expand on the loss of Dusautoir, the former World Player of the Year is, in the words of Toulouse coach Guy Novès, "irreplaceable."

But not all is lost. There is real quality to be found throughout the squad and progress has been made since last year's disaster, as illustrated by solid performances against the All Blacks and Springboks in November. The extra preparation time is massive step in the right direction but it's time for this generation to step up.

Key Players: The absence of Thierry Dusautoir means that Pascal Papé's leadership will be crucial. Louis Picamoles' ball-carrying power from the base of the scrum was missed in November an his brute strength, especially when the tryline is in sight, is set to be a key weapon. Saint-André has finally seen the light and is picking Wesley Fofana at 12 and French fans can only hope that Europe's most dangerous back will be allowed to express himself by whoever plays at fly-half.

Players to watch: It's no small feat to keep Springbok ace Morné Steyn out of a starting line-up but Stade Français playmaker Jules Plisson has been hailed as the next great French fly-half (hands up if you've heard that one before). His club's results - they lead the Top 14 - certainly suggest the hype is not without merit. By contrast Nicolas Mas has not always started for Montpellier this season. The 33-year-old tighthead has been the rock on which the formidable French scrum has been built for the last four-odd years. It's almost a decade since he made his Test debut and if the grunt is gone, les Bleus will suffer immensely.

Prospects: If the French pack can front up to England on Saturday then a home game against Italy a week later offers a chance to set the early pace. If Murrayfield can be conquered, as it should, then France could very well still be in the hunt for the title when Ireland visit Paris on the final day. A slow start, however, could mean a high-pressure mid-tournament trip to Cardiff, where the wheels could come off the bus. The history books show that France tend to win the Six Nations in years following Lions tours and both Saint-André's predecessors won the Grand Slam in their third year in charge. Wooden Spoon to Grand Slam in 12 months? Only the French could even imagine it...

Fixtures:
Sat, 1 Feb v England (Stade de France)
Sun, 9 Feb v Italy (Stade de France)
Fri, 21 Feb v Wales (Millennium Stadium)
Sat, 8 March v Scotland (Murrayfield)
Sat, 15 March v Ireland (Stade de France)

by Ross Hastie

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , April 20
Northampton vs London IrishNorthampton vs London Irish Preview
Newcastle vs SaracensNewcastle vs Saracens Preview
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , April 19
Connacht vs MunsterConnacht vs Munster Preview
Sunday , April 20
Cardiff Blues vs ScarletsCardiff Blues vs Scarlets Preview
Newport Gwent D'gons vs OspreysNewport Gwent D
More RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures
Amlin Challenge Cup
Friday , April 25
Northampton vs Harlequins20:00
More Amlin Challenge Cup fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , April 19
Grenoble vs Bayonne18:30
Biarritz vs Brive18:30
Racing Metro Paris vs Clermont AuvergneRacing Metro Paris vs Clermont Auvergne Preview
Stade Francais vs Bordeaux-Begles20:35
More Top 14 fixtures
Super Rugby
Friday , April 25
Blues vs Waratahs17:35
Brumbies vs Chiefs17:40
Sharks vs Highlanders19:10
More Super Rugby fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , April 19
Bath 32 - 20 WorcesterBath vs Worcester Report
Exeter 12 - 55 SaleExeter vs Sale Report
Wasps 38 - 30 GloucesterWasps vs Gloucester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
RaboDirect PRO12
Zebre 26 - 13 EdinburghZebre vs Edinburgh Report
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Top 14
Oyonnax 19 - 19 ToulouseOyonnax vs Toulouse Report
Perpignan 31 - 46 ToulonPerpignan vs Toulon Report
More Top 14 results
Super Rugby
Chiefs 17 - 18 CrusadersChiefs vs Crusaders Report
Stormers 18 - 3 LionsStormers vs Lions Report
Sharks 19 - 8 CheetahsSharks vs Cheetahs Report
Waratahs 19 - 12 BullsWaratahs vs Bulls Report
More Super Rugby results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , April 18
Harlequins 24 - 20 LeicesterHarlequins vs Leicester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
RaboDirect PRO12
Leinster 62 - 7 Benetton TrevisoLeinster vs Benetton Treviso Report
Glasgow 27 - 9 UlsterGlasgow vs Ulster Report
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Top 14
Castres 22 - 15 MontpellierCastres vs Montpellier Report
More Top 14 results
Super Rugby
Hurricanes 39 - 20 BluesHurricanes vs Blues Report
Melbourne Rebels 22 - 16 Western Force
More Super Rugby results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , April 13
Saracens 28 - 24 NorthamptonSaracens vs Northampton Report
London Irish 40 - 12 NewcastleLondon Irish vs Newcastle Report
Saturday , April 12
Worcester 33 - 38 ExeterWorcester vs Exeter Report
Leicester 27 - 15 WaspsLeicester vs Wasps Report
Gloucester 17 - 18 BathGloucester vs Bath Report
More Aviva Premiership results
RaboDirect PRO12
Benetton Treviso 45 - 27 Newport Gwent D'gonsBenetton Treviso vs Newport Gwent D
Scarlets 27 - 20 ZebreScarlets vs Zebre Report
Munster 5 - 22 GlasgowMunster vs Glasgow Report
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Top 14
Bordeaux-Begles 20 - 22 ToulonBordeaux-Begles vs Toulon Report
More Top 14 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Saracens1976
2Northampton1966
3Bath2064
4Leicester Tigers2064
5Harlequins2058