Six Nations 2014 Preview: France

6n captains

Home ground: Stade de France, Paris
Head Coach: Philippe Saint-André

Strengths:

By ancient rite and lore, France’s strength is their unpredictability. That incredible historical talent that turned defence into attack in a twinkling of Serge Blanco’s eye – which is much, much quicker than the eyes of mere mortals.

But, unpredictability has been a thing of the past in French sides since Bernard Laporte was coach. He gave it up as the price for increased discipline. It has, so far, shown no signs of returning under Philippe Saint-André. Move along, then. No thrilling French ‘total rugby’ to see here.

That said, Saint-Andre has three-quarters at his disposal that would have any coach salivating. Yoann Huget, Maxime Médard and Brice Dulin make up a back three that is capable of ripping through any less-than-perfectly organised defence. Wesley Fofana is a king among centres. It’s just a shame that Florian Fritz is injured. Speaking of which…

Weaknesses:

No Thierry Dusautoir. No Morgan Parra. No Sofiane Guitoune. No Fritz, no Tales, no Lopez as backup. France’s injury list reads like that depressing poem about November that cruel teachers used to soften up innocent new pupils before unleashing the war poets.

Cruel circumstance has forced Saint-Andre to patch up his squad for this Six Nations from the outset.

Fly-half Remi Tales and fullback Jean-Marcellin Buttin fell by the wayside at the weekend, prompting him to call up Montpellier’s long-forgotten Francois Trinh-Duc and Racing Metro’s fast bunny Marc Andreu as cover.

Very few international sides can cope with losing so many key players. This particular incarnation of France is not one of them.

Player to watch: Brice Dulin

With a pack that could be mistaken for a decent-sized mountain range and with Wesley Fofana scaring the Brian O’Driscolls out of everyone in midfield, the Castres Olympique full back is easy to miss – as many an opposition defender has discovered to his side’s cost.

It goes without saying that Dulin is lightning quick and, although he’s relatively small, he’s a giant under the high ball. Just as a full back should be.

He’s also more slippery than an eel liberally slathered in grease then dipped in butter, and has a sixth, seventh and eighth sense about where those tiny, almost insignificant defensive gaps are. The danger for opponents is that, when he finds them (which he does with terrifying frequency), those gaps very quickly become very significant indeed.

He missed last year’s Six Nations, which was good news for his club as he was a key player in their surprise and secret charge to the Top 14 title, but was a rare light in the darkness during France’s dismal summer tour of New Zealand – and made Les Bleus’ number 15 shirt his own during the autumn internationals.

Last season: 6th

The less said about France’s 2013 Six Nations campaign, the better. They ended up with the wooden spoon for the first time since 1999, with a face-saving final day 23-16 victory over Scotland and a draw against Ireland the only vague positives from an awful tournament. It was the start of a terrible year for Les Bleus, who finished 2013 with just two wins and a draw from 11 matches.

Prediction: 4th

Much has been made of the fact that France have a habit of winning every Six Nations after a Lions’ tour. That’s unlikely to happen this year, with Le Crunch kicking off France’s tournament. Even in Paris, this is not a game this France side can be certain of winning. England have won two of the last three here, and five of their last seven.

There will be times when France are on the front foot and, when that happens, there will be more than a few hints of past glories – just not enough to win this tournament. In fact, not in any tournament, until Saint-André learns to pick the right player for the right position…

It’s hard-to-the-point-of-impossible to see past Wales or Ireland as champions – and England are certain to be there or thereabouts. You can perm any one from that trio for any of the top three places. Which leaves France to head up the also-rans with Scotland and Italy.

By James Harrington (@blackmountained)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

9 thoughts on “Six Nations 2014 Preview: France

  1. Cleremont aside I rarely see a Top 14 side play a game at any real pace. I don’t think the cardio fitness is that great, hopefully we can play at sufficient pace to exploit that first up.

  2. I think France will get the start they need on Sunday and can kick on from there. I put a lot of store by history and the trends don’t look positive for Wales even if they do deserve to be favourites and think the match in Cardiff could well be a title decider.

  3. I know what you mean, but you could have written a similar article before the RWC and they reached the final in that. I think it’s almost impossible to judge France until after they’ve played that first game – win that and they’ll realise they’re in it and may go on and do something. I think it’s winnable especially as even their 2nd choice backs will have 100% of the wit, invention and guile on that field when meet England. It’s a question of whether they use it or just shrug at it all and lose a forward dominated battle on a cold, wet pitch.

    1. It looks as though France are going to try to play a forward dominated game. I’m only basing that on the fact that their bench will be a 6:2 split.

      Don’t really understand their thinking there, and should play right into Englands hands.

      Should be a really tight game mind you, I’m looking forward to it.

  4. I’ve given up predicting 6n – the tournament is too unpredictable. Let’s face it, the first round last year was hardly indicative of the final result. all I do know is that if England fail against Wales again, we are screwed for the World cup. 3 years running , home and away will be a huge psychological burden.

    1. The weather played a huge part in last year’s Six Nations. The first weekend saw 16 tries and a feast of running rugby. Then it rained, and the wind howled and the temperature dropped and all the other games turned into wars of attrition. Until, that is, the roof went on at the Millennium Stadium…

  5. I’ve given up on the 6N. Its not as good as the Rugby Championship or the World Cup.

    But then I’ve never been overly impressed with it anyway.

    1. Never really enjoyed the tri-nations or the new RC. Yeah, it’s got some high quality rugby in it but it means nothing to me. I have no affinity to those teams – for me rugby is at it’s best when the result truly matters. Watching skill is nice, in the same as watching showjumping can be impressive, but give me a dour Wales game that matters over a high paced SA v NZ game any day of the week.

Comments are closed.