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Six Nations Preview: France

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Shôn Douglas previews the 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship for Sport Talk. We Love Sport have teamed up with tournament sponsors Guinness to bring you complimentary pints during the championship – to redeem simply download the We Love Sport app.

FRANCE

What can you say about the French that hasn’t already been said? I suppose one thing is that they offer a coherent blend between flair and attacking finesse and well organised and committed defensive displays?

Could 2020 be the year that that changes though?

With legendary French scrum half Fabien Galthié taking over as head coach of Les Bleus and the appointment defensive guru Shaun Edwards following his departure from Wales, France have an exciting new outlook that could spell a return to the glory days.

Too many times the teams have flattered to deceive, showing genuine brilliance but then sheer lunacy within the space of five minutes. The cataclysmic self-sabotage against Wales in last year’s opener set the tone for the rest of the tournament for both sides and the Rugby World Cup ended similarly for the French when Sebastien Vahaamahina deployed his own version of Le coude des gens (people’s elbow) on Welshman Aaron Wainwright in a 20-19 quarter final defeat.

Somewhat unsurprisingly Vahaamahina is nowhere near the French squad for this year’s tournament, but among the players that are lies some real talent capable of beating anyone in the Six Nations on their day.

Half-back pairing Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont have been in electrifying form for Toulouse this year and that relationship will be pivotal to how France play. Moving the ball quickly to unleash the likes of winger Damian Penaud, who has bagged five tries in 16 appearances, will be vital to allow France to realise their undoubted potential.

Up front the pack has a lot of work to do to establish the platform for Ntamack to make the magic happen, and the absence of veteran Guilhem Guirado will make things harder. But Galthié is clearly backing youth, probably with the 2023 Rugby World Cup taking place on home soil in the back of his mind.

The captaincy has passed to 26 year old Toulon back row Charles Ollivon who will be charged with leading this new pack, but with monsters like Gregory Alldritt, Demba Bamba and Jefferson Poirot in the mix they won’t be push overs.

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Summary

The tide seems to be turning in France, and I don’t mean socio-politically. Everything on paper looks set up for les bleus to have their best tournament for some years. A well-respected former player in as coach, tactical nous and a minimal threshold for BS in the shape of Edwards, plus an exciting youthful looking side and three home games looks like a pretty good starting block for the French. But can they back up the potential?

This year might 2020 be too soon, but in 2021 when the side have been playing under the new coach and are a year more experienced then I think we’re looking at winners. Mid-table, for now.

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