By Tom Henry-Jones
France are serious contenders in this years Six Nations. New Head Coach Fabien Galthié has named an exciting new look squad, featuring 19 uncapped players, the most uncapped players selected out of the other 5 teams.
After coming off the back of a relatively average World Cup in Japan, expectations are low for Galthie’s young side, which has an average age of just 24. Yohan Huget, Maxime Medard, Camille Lopez and Maxime Machenaud have all made way for the young blood. Only one player over the age of 30 features in the French squad. A move which symbolises an intent to form an established squad in 4 years’ time for Frances home World Cup in 2023.
France’s World Cup campaign would have most probably seen them through to a Semi-Final if it wasn’t for Sébastien Vahaamahina’s reckless elbow against Wales. Yet it is their indiscipline, inconsistency and poor selection choices that has blighted this French side for the last few seasons. You would have to go all the way back to 2010 to see when France last won the Six Nations, a long time overdue, in a nation which should be competing for the title so much more.
France’s route to a title this year rests solely on a strong start against the favourites England in Paris. Most pundits have even tipped the winner of this game to go on and win the whole tournament. Yet even if they overcome such a hurdle, away trips to Cardiff and Edinburgh await in rounds three and four.
France will fancy themselves against these sides, both of which are going through turbulent transitions. However, by judging from the makeup of this new look French side, their one goal lies four years ahead in 2023, this years tournament might just be a step too far for this inexperienced side.
Ultimately it is not just the inclusion of 19 uncapped players that has captured the media’s attention towards the French side. It is the introduction of Shaun Edwards as defence coach which has caught many headlines. A move away from Wales is a brave call for the experienced coach, but he might just be what France have been lacking.
France, as shown on far too many occasions, have fallen short because of either weak defence and unforced errors, an area Edwards will surely rectify in quick time.
Edwards has a fierce reputation as a demanding coach, a trait that has brought great success down the years. Wales effectively won the Grand Slam last year off the back of Edwards’ unforgiving defence. Edwards therefore rightly brings huge expectations for this French side, but it is in doubt whether the man from Wigan can supply results overnight.
Eddie Jones, in the lead up to the France England game said that ‘his team were going to find out how France’s young team can handle the pressure’. Although clearly Eddie was just playing mind games, the English coach does have a point. France have won the last two Under 20 World Cups, a feat not achieved since a Kiwi side which featured Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick.
As Galthie bleeds in the youngsters, his challenge will be whether he can combine flamboyant French flair with a trademark Edwards defence. This years tournament might be a bit early for the young French side to compete, but if somehow they can combine flair and control, they’ll be contenders for many years to come.