Six Nations: Seven changes France should make, including ‘dumping’ Jonathan Danty and looking to the future

Jared Wright
France head coach Fabien Galthie, centre Jonathan Danty and fly-half Matthieu Jalibert during the 2024 Six Nations.

France head coach Fabien Galthie, centre Jonathan Danty and fly-half Matthieu Jalibert during the 2024 Six Nations.

It’s been a disappointing Six Nations thus far for France after one loss, one win and one draw, but Fabien Galthie could still get some positives from this campaign.

Les Bleus have underperformed as they’ve failed to recover from their Rugby World Cup hangover and we feel it’s time for sweeping changes.

Ireland comprehensively outplayed France in round one; Scotland came incredibly close to defeating them at Murrayfield, and Italy were similarly unlucky, with the width of the upright denying them.

Galthie’s position will be under threat for the remainder of the Six Nations due to the World Cup failure and poor start to the year, but he still has an opportunity to turn things around in the final two matches.

The French boss should be brave in his selections, as he was before the World Cup, as he looks to the upcoming July internationals and beyond.

Dump Danty

Rewind to the 2022 Six Nations and before the Rugby World Cup, and Jonathan Danty was comfortably in the conversation for the best inside centre in the world.

Week in and week out, he produced a strong case for his argument, but that is now not the case, as he has become a liability for club and country.

At his bulldozing and brutal best he is one of the first names on the teamsheet but it seems that Galthie has got into that habit despite his poor form.

Since December 2023, Danty has been issued two yellow and two red cards. He was yellow-carded in the defeat to Leinster after he pulled Dan Sheehan to the ground in a scuffle and showed his hot-headed nature just two weeks later against Stade Francais. This time it was a red card as he stamped opposite number 12 Jeremy Ward as the latter held onto his leg off the ball.

After returning from suspension, he visited the sin bin again in his first game back; he shot out of the line and made a high tackle on Handre Pollard in the clash with Leicester Tigers.

Now, following his sending-off against Italy, Galthie needs to take a stand and drop the centre out of his matchday team going forward, if not the entire squad.

The decision is likely to be made for him depending on the outcome of the disciplinary panel lottery as he is likely to miss one if not both of the last Six Nations games.

In his place, Galthie certainly has no shortage of options.

Yoram Moefana has impressed when given the opportunity, particularly in his preferred position at the inside centre. Montpellier have endured a poor season to date, which has contributed to Arthur Vincent’s non-selection since the World Cup, but the French boss regards him highly and has been trusted in big matches before. He is renowned for his defensive capabilities, is a natural leader, and is a perfect foil for Gael Fickou.

Shifting Fickou to inside centre is a tenable option, too, and that could provide Émilien Gailleton with an opportunity to shine against Wales and England after a starring debut against Scotland before the World Cup last year.

In the same breath, Nicolas Depoortere has been phenomenal for Bordeaux and deserves an opportunity as well, while Toulouse’s Pierre-Louis Barassi is another handy option, considering his pace, size and skillset.

Even Danty’s La Rochelle teammate Jules Favre is a player worth taking a punt on; Galthie just needs to pull the trigger.

There is no doubting Danty’s capabilities or potential, but on current form, he is just not cutting it and should be made to force his way back into the mix for the July tour to Argentina.

Back Marchand

France’s lineout has been faltering this Six Nations, and much of that does fall on the shoulders of hooker Peato Mauvaka. Les Bleus have plenty of quality lineout jumpers, even in the absence of Gregory Alldritt and Thibaud Flament.

However, it hasn’t fired effectively in the opening halves of all their matches this year, and much of it has to do with the quality of Mauvaka’s throws. While France have been able to retain possession, it hasn’t always been clean and accurate. The lineout continues to be the richest source of tries in Test rugby, and his inaccuracies has had a domino effect on the attack.

A simple fix would be promoting Julien Marchand back into the starting XV, as his throws have been far more accurate.

Pierre Bougarit’s injury means that Mauvaka would likely have to be retained on the bench but hooker Maxime Lamothe has been knocking on the selection door along with Racing 92’s Camille Chat.

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Let Le Garrec shine

In each of France’s games this Six Nations, young scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec has made a positive impact off the bench and deserves a start before the end of the tournament.

Antoine Dupont was always going to be missed for this tournament, and Maxime Lucu was the natural replacement. He has proved his quality time and time again in the French jersey but has not replicated that form this year.

With Wales and England to come, Galthie has the ideal opportunity to let Le Garrec shine, particularly if his clubmate gets the starting number 10 jumper.

Give Gibert the keys

Speaking of the number 10 jumper and Galthie looks set to be without both of his star fly-halves for the closing stages of the Six Nations as Romain Ntamack is still yet to return from injury while Matthieu Jalibert sustained what looked like a serious knee injury against Italy.

Thomas Ramos took over as fly-half for the remainder of the match once Jalibert hobbled off the pitch and struggled to stamp his mark on proceedings as he was also hampered by Danty’s sending off.

Ramos has filled the role for Toulouse in the past but does not have the game management and nous required to boss the French backline and should remain at full-back with Racing 92 star Antoine Gibert given his chance to stake a claim.

Gibert has been excellent for Racing 92 this season and has moved ahead of Antoine Hastoy in the pecking order in the national set-up. Building up to the World Cup, Galthie was brave in giving the likes of Hastoy and Louis Carbonel opportunities in the starting XV, and he should afford the same to Gibert after a stellar run of form.

5-3 split on the bench

France’s bench tactics backfired on them this weekend as the 6-2 split failed to fire them to victory in the manner they would have hoped.

Charles Ollivon’s replacement was particularly puzzling, and it felt like France were seemingly making some changes just because they could as panic set in after Danty’s red card.

Loading up the bench with an extra forward and sacrificing a backline player to do so has its benefits, but considering some of the changes in the backs for the upcoming fixtures, returning to the more conventional 5-3 looks like a straightforward choice.

With Alldritt set to return to action for the final two weeks, France don’t require two loose forwards on their bench as they did against Italy as Francois Cros is arguably the form player, Ollivon can easily go 80 minutes and so can the powerful number eight. That extra substitution can be used to add an additional cover at fly-half/full-back and have a midfielder or winger that can add real bite in the latter stages.

Second-row changes

Posolo Tuilagi had a cracking first start for France against Italy, but his second-row partner Cameron Woki failed to impress yet again. It’s a third straight pedestrian performance from the talented Racing 92 forward, whose positives have been at the lineout.

If Flament is fit again, one has to think that Galthie will shift him right back into the starting line-up at the expense of Woki. The French boss will also have Paul Willemse back from suspension while Paul Gabrillagues is in the squad.

Gabrillagues was surprisingly dropped after two strong performances and deserves another opportunity against the Welsh and English packs. We suggest starting with Gabrillagues and Flament or Tuilagi with one featuring from the bench.

Give the opportunities to youth

Galthie has not been shy about throwing youngsters into the Test arena in the past, and with the current side underperforming, doing so again could be the fix they desperately need.

The pack is still churning out relatively strong performances, but it is in the more experienced backs where there seems to be more issues.

France’s chances of winning this Six Nations are all but gone now, and using the last two matches to give opportunities to fringe players could be hugely beneficial going forward.

Outside of the aforementioned players, Marko Gazzotti is a star for the future and a potential competitor for Alldritt’s role. Giving him a few minutes off the bench could do him the world of good.

While Ramos has nailed down the full-back role, Leo Barre could provide a real injection of energy in the latter stages and can also double up as fly-half cover.

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