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. After losing the Rugby World Cup final by just a point, an achievement that no one expected after losing to Tonga, the change at the top has been made with Phillippe Saint-André coming in to coach the national side.
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
Key Player: Thierry Dusautoir
The 2011 IRB Player of the Year is special on the basis that he has consistently been one of the best players in the world over the last five years. No one appears more hurt when talking about the 2011 Rugby World Cup final than the Toulouse captain, whose fine form for his club since returning has been superb. In New Zealand, Dusautoir was tasked with gelling together a fractious, warring group. Now, with the hatchet buried, all he must do is lead Les Bleus to glory.
One to Watch: Wesley Fofana
If you don’t know who he is now, you’ll soon find out. Fofana is the top try scorer and has beaten the most defenders in the Top 14 so far this season, and now his midfield combination with club captain Aurélien Rougerie is set to make the transfer to the international stage. Formerly on trial with football club Paris Saint-Germain, Fofana has excellent pace and how he develops on the biggest stage will be fascinating.
RBS Six Nations Fixtures:
Saturday 4th February, France v Italy, 14:30, Stade de France
Sunday 12th February, France v Ireland, 20:00, Stade de France
Saturday 26th February, Scotland v France, 15:00, Murrayfield
Sunday 11th March, France v England, 15:00, Stade de France
Saturday 19th March, Wales v France, 14:45, Millennium Stadium
Key Clash: Wales v France
Already sold out, this final fixture on the final day of the Championship has Grand Slam decider written all over it. That is, if Wales win their first match away in Dublin, and France then do the same against the Irish in Round Four. In facing England at home, France get to tackle their weakened old enemy on their own soil. A fourth Grand Slam within a decade could be in sight when the French travel to Cardiff.
Odds: Favourites at 13/8
Argument that says they can win it:
Their squad. Going through the 22 for the first match against Italy, the strength in depth that France possess is unrivalled. The core of their World Cup side who came within a whisker of glory remains, plus some returning former stars in Lionel Beauxis and Yannick Nyanga. Whereas Ireland are weak in the centres and Wales crippled by injuries in the tight five, France have no weak areas. Their schedule could be easier against Wales at home, but overall it lies in their favour. Add to the mix the sanity of Philippe Saint-André, and France appear unstoppable.
Argument that says they can’t:
Hard to be convincing on this one. One could be that France have had minimal time together due to the schedule of the Top 14, halting their time with Saint-André, but then the level of understanding is still there from the RWC. An injury at fly-half might leave them a little short. Ireland will be their first real test, but they can settle the nerves against Italy.
Coach Philippe Saint-André says:
“At the moment we have a situation where my top players will have played Heineken Cup one week, T14 the next and then the first Six Nations game against Italy. This is not a good preparation. I would also like France to have four Test matches in November like other countries, unlike the three we have now. It is all very new and different but I am excited and a little nervous. It is a big challenge. When I was a club coach I had the players for 10 months, now I get them for 10 weeks. We must work quickly and well. I want to surround them with quality coaches, top players need quality coaches, and already it is a fantastic advantage for me, as a coach, to have a captain like Thierry [Dusautoir], his experience and charisma will help pull the team together quickly.”
Captain Thierry Dusautoir says:
“”We reached the World Cup final well aware that there were several areas needing improvement. With regard to Saint-Andre, it is too early to tell. The emphasis has been placed on communication, to get the players to express their views, to say what they think. There have been lots of meetings, collectively as well as individually, to sort out the in-house rules.”
With the strongest squad and one of the best coaches in the game, France are definite favourites. A Grand Slam though is at risk taking on Ireland at home and then Wales in Cardiff. 1st, but no Grand Slam.
by Ben Coles