As we continue the build up to the 2011 RBS Six Nations, Ben Coles assesses the French team and the outlook for their fans this year.
Six Nations Pedigree: The most successful Six Nations side in history, France have picked up 5 championship titles, including three Grand Slams in 2002, 2004 and 2010. The current champions possess more talent in their ranks than any other side in the competition, and will be looking to win a 6th title at home in the last match of the tournament against Wales.
Best Six Nations moment:
With both sides capable of winning the championship, France achieved their 2004 Grand Slam by winning 24-21 against England in the last game at the Stade de France, holding off an English fightback in the closing stages.
Biggest Six Nations win: 56 – 13 (v Italy 2005)
Biggest Six Nations defeat: 19 – 48 (v England 2001)
Current Form: W-L-L-W-W-L
After such success during last year’s championship, which France won achieving a Grand Slam in the process, their form since then has been absolutely dreadful. Big defeats in their only summer Tests against South Africa (17-42) and Argentina (13-41) were massive blows to the momentum the French seemed to have been gradually gathering on the way to the World Cup.
In the Autumn they stuttered to wins over Fiji and Argentina, before that nightmare second half performance against Australia, where they shipped 46 points in one half. France have not had a chance to react to that heavy defeat and therefore they will be look to salvage their reputation, starting with Scotland at home.
Key player: Morgan Parra
Arguably the best scrum half in the world, Parra is a special talent. Carrying from other great goal-kicking French scrum halves like Jean-Baptiste Elissade and Dimitri Yachvili, Parra is le petit général of this team. He plays with a composure beyond his years, and his continuing impressive performances for Clermont have cemented his reputation as one of the world’s best. Also as a goal-kicker, he very rarely misses.
One to watch: Maxime Mermoz
The Perpignan centre has surprisingly only won 7 caps for his country, which is unfortunate given that he is Yannick Jauzion in his way. However Mermoz has been excellent for Perpignan this season, especially in the Heineken Cup. The way he tore the Scarlets apart in Round 6 was beautiful to watch, combining subtle strength with great speed. Could be set to make a big impact.
RBS Six Nations Fixtures:
Saturday 5th February, France v Scotland, 17:00, Stade de France
Sunday 13th February, Ireland v France, 15:00, Aviva Stadium
Saturday 26th February, England v France, 15:00, Twickenham
Saturday 12th March, Italy v France, 14:30, Stadio Flaminio
Saturday 19th March, France v Wales, 19:45, Stade de France
Key clash: England v France
England are being touted as favourites and will have home advantage, so a win at Twickenham is just as important for France’s ambitions as it is in terms of stopping England winning the Grand Slam. Ahead of the World Cup, wins against the biggest teams are crucial for confidence and morale. This match will make or break France’s spirit.
Odds: 2nd favorites at 9/4 with Paddy Power.
Argument that says they can win it:
France have more depth and talent than anyone else. They also possess great experience of how to win this competition, and win it well. There is so much class in certain areas of the team, the centres and back row especially, and if they manage to get on a roll with big wins against Scotland and Italy first up, then there could be no stopping them from winning another Grand Slam.
Argument that says they can’t:
France’s confidence must be shaky after the big defeats they suffered during the second part of 2010. On top of that, there is no stand out fly half, and in the centres whilst they are spoilt for choice, it’s not entirely clear who Marc Llevremont wants to play. The coach has switched and brought in so many players over the last three years, that now must be the time for some consistency in selection. If they do not perform against Scotland and Italy as expected with big wins, then they may struggle against England at Twickenham and against Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Marc Lievremont: “We have come to understand what happened in the second half against Australia. We lacked any precision whatsoever, and given how poor our game management was we basically committed suicide. It was a difficult moment for us, and it will not happen again.”
Thierry Dusautoir: “It is very difficult to recover after a performance like that, but we stand up together as a team and as a squad and we will move forward. After winning the Grand Slam, we know that we are capable of winning this competition. It is not a question of us being under pressure, we have the ability.”
Second behind England. Possible champions.
Highlights of 2010 Grand Slam winning match against England at the Stade de France:
by Ben Coles