By Jack Vavasour
French rugby has dominated European competition in recent times with Toulon having won the Champions Cup three years in a row from 2013-2015. Furthermore, a French side has contested the final every year since 2013.
Yet France have not won the Six Nations since 2010, following this they have experienced a succession of disappointing results, including the wooden spoon in 2013. Last year was tainted by the sacking of coach Guy Noves in the build-up to the competition,
Jacques Brunel stepping into his place. France began last year’s tournament by almost beating eventual Grand Slam Champions Ireland, only to be foiled by a Johnny Sexton drop goal in the dying seconds of the match. It was further ruined by several players, including Teddy Thomas who had scored three tries in France’s opening two matches, being banned after a night out in Edinburgh following their defeat to Scotland.
This year Brunel has named a strong squad for the final Six Nations before the World Cup in Japan. Thomas has missed out due to injury, this will be a massive blow for a French side who are often reliant on tries from the dangerous Racing 92 winger. His pace and power are evidenced in every try he scores and France will be desperate to find another outlet to power them towards a successful tournament.
Wesley Fofana returns and will be a welcome addition to the squad, he is a player who combines power, speed and flair to offer a fearful prospect for opposition defences. He will be looking to leave his mark on his final Six Nations following a career plagued with injuries. He is likely to be paired in the centre with wrecking ball, Mathieu Bastareaud. Maxime Medard also looks a frightful prospect as he has been on phenomenal form for Toulouse and has propelled them into the semi-finals of the Champions Cup.
As predicted, France have named a powerful forward group, Guilhem Guirado will captain again and will be hoping to improve on a disappointing Autumn series where they fell to a maiden defeat to Fiji. If used correctly, this pack could destroy oppositions and everyone knows that the forwards win rugby matches and the backs just decide by how many. No other nation can quite match the sheer power that France currently possess. France’s forwards must offer a solid platform from which Camille Lopez can then unleash the speed and attacking prowess of his backline.
France, in order to win, must find consistency within their squad, with too many changes in personnel in recent times they lack this and can be seen as a result of why they are failing to win matches.
This Six Nations, they certainly possess the players to launch a serious challenge for the title. With Wales and Scotland at home, they should look to win all games in Paris. Travelling away to Ireland and England will be difficult, however, France are a sleeping giant of rugby and Brunel just needs to discover how to wake this powerful force.
There certainly can be a strong buzz around the potential of this side and, as a nation who notoriously perform well at World Cups, this would be just about perfect timing for France to begin to perform in the build-up to Japan.
Consistency is key, and when key players return they will certainly be a force to be reckoned with. Never underestimate the danger that this attacking outfit possess, let’s hope we are treated to the famous French flair this year.