Coach: Philippe Saint-André
Home ground: Stade De France, Paris
Where to start? A dominant front row; a soaring line-out; a big, ugly, athletic pack who can mix it with the best and backs with pace and natural flair in equal measure. If they switch it on and play at the tempo they’re capable of, they’re almost impossible to stop – as Australia found out in the Autumn Internationals. When they’re in the mood they look like world beaters, however…
… They’re not always in the mood. France’s perplexing lack of consistency is one of the biggest clichés in rugby. Capable of going from sublime one week to sub-par the next. The key to beating them, therefore, is to get on top of them psychologically. Do that and you stand a decent chance of beating them. Maybe.
Player to watch: Frédéric Michalak
Despite having plenty of young talent thrusting through, it’s the veteran half-back who you should be keeping your eye on. After spending years in the rugby wilderness, one of the world’s most mercurial players has gone through a bit of a renaissance this season – shepherding the impressive Toulon from scrum half. He played a key role in France’s successful Autumn campaign, and you shouldn’t be surprised if he does the same in this year’s Six Nations.
Last season: 4th
France’s 2012 campaign was, sadly, typified by the Jekyll and Hyde performances for which they have become famous. After romping to a comfortable victory on the opening weekend, they snuck past the Scots at Murrayfield before registering a disappoint draw in the rearranged fixture against Ireland in Paris. They ended with two defeats, to England at home and Wales away. 4th was a chronic disappointment for a group of players as talented as France’s, and this season they will not accept a similar failure
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Surely they can’t do as badly this year, can they? Despite having to travel to both Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium, they look a much more complete team. The autumn tests brought with them a sense of consistency, as they won all their matches, including a highly impressive spanking of the Aussies. Talismanic flanker Theirry Dusautoir is back, the aforementioned Michalak has finally found some consistency to match his mercurial talent, and Wesley Fofana can count himself as truly one of the best centres in world rugby. With those two tough away fixtures they may not win a grand slam, but they could well still be crowned champions.
by Gideon Heugh