Gregory Alldritt ruled out: Who captains and starts for France?

Jared Wright
France forwards Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon and Francois Cros.

France forwards Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon and Francois Cros.

Stand-in France captain Gregory Alldritt will miss Les Bleus’ Six Nations match against Italy next week through injury, leaving Fabien Galthie with a massive void to fill.

Not only is Alldritt the skipper in Antoine Dupont’s absence, but he is also the side’s first-choice number eight, leaving Galthie with two roles to fill.

The French back-rower cut his left thigh in the victory over Scotland in Round Two of the Championship, an injury not too dissimilar to the one All Blacks prop Tyrel Lomax sustained in the Test match against the Springboks at Twickenham before the World Cup.

Alldritt required stitches, and while he was confident after the match that he wouldn’t be sidelined, it is reported that the healing process will rule him out for two to three weeks, meaning he will miss the clash against Italy in Lille.

France will be eager to bounce back after two poor outings in their opening Six Nations match, falling to a heavy defeat to Ireland and a narrow and uninspiring victory over Scotland at Murrayfield.

With the 26-year-old set to miss the clash, Planet Rugby takes a look at who could replace him in the starting lineup, as well as the possible captaincy options.

New-old captain

There is one clear front-runner to take the captaincy for the clash against Italy, and it’s the man who took on the role when Alldritt left the pitch, Charles Ollivon.

The Toulon forward is a consistent performer for the side and is regularly one of the first names on the teamsheet for Galthie. He was handed the responsibility of captaining Les Bleus when Galthie took over as head coach before injuries struck and the role was shifted onto Dupont.

With his experience and natural leadership, Ollivon is the obvious choice to fill the position in the short-term, but he is not the only option.

Centre Gael Fickou often skippers Racing 92 and is the most capped player in the squad. He would be another safe option for Galthie to turn to. It is slim pickings outside of the pair, but Maxime Lucu may be another option, as could Julien Marchand – if he is elevated back into the starting lineup.

Front runners for the eight jersey

As for filling Alldritt’s void in the number eight jumper, Galthie is spoilt for choice with quality back-rowers, although few of his current squad members play the position regularly for their clubs.

This means that one of the multi-talented flankers will likely shift from the side to the back of the scrum. Ollivon would be a safe bet again with his outstanding all-round skill set, making it an easy switch for the 30-year-old.

However, the make-up of the loose trio when Alldritt departed the pitch gives us insight into Galthie and his coaching staff’s initial thinking.

Francois Cros was the man to shift into the number eight role in the game’s latter stages. Much like Ollivon, Cros has a well-rounded game that would make the switch seamless, and he has revealed to Planet Rugby previously that he fancies himself as a number eight rather than a flanker.

His breakdown work and overall work-rate is similar to that of Alldritt’s and he showed his ability off the base of the scrum with his fantastic carry in the build-up to Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s crucial try. While he has been in and out of the starting lineup in recent seasons, he is currently in fine form and was one of their best against France.

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In the mix

While the above pair mentioned do not regularly feature at number eight for their Top 14 clubs, Galthie does have options that do.

One of those options would earn just his second cap for France and his first start if backed for the role. Alexandre Roumat followed in his father’s footsteps last week, becoming a France international when he came off the bench against Scotland. Much like his father, Alexandre is versatile in being able to play most of the back-five positions but has regularly played at number eight for Toulouse.

In fact, he even helped Toulouse win the Top 14 in the position and could be backed to produce a statement performance against Italy, which France will be expected to sweep aside despite their indifferent form. His lineout ability is a real strength of his game, which also works in his favour.

He will face stiff competition from Alldritt’s La Rochelle clubmate Paul Boudehent, who has quickly become a regular squad member since making his Test debut last year. He has spent much of his time on the side of the scrum, which is understandable with Alldritt filling the role for club and country, but like many of the current back-rowers, he is more than capable of playing the position.

There is also the talented teen Marko Gazzotti, who could well make his Test debut next weekend. The 19-year-old shone during the age-grade side’s World Rugby U20 Championship triumph in 2023 and has since impressed for Bordeaux-Begles this season, which has been rewarded with a senior call-up.

Outside bets

Sekou Macalou has seemingly slipped down the pecking order for France this year and has not featured on either of the first two teamsheets. The speedy back-rower would bring a different dimension to the role but has shifted to the position for France in the past.

Macalou has the opportunity to force his way back into the Six Nations squad this weekend when Stade Francais take on Perpignan and could even claim a start, having been a regular squad member in recent seasons.

In the same breath, La Rochelle’s Yoann Tanga could make a claim for a recall, too, when Ronan O’Gara’s side goes up against Lyon.

Tanga started at number eight numerous times for France in 2022 and could be recalled right back into the starting lineup. He made a surprising appearance in the centres for La Rochelle recently but would be a safe choice at number eight.

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