Six Nations Preview: France

Six_Nations_Championship.svgLES BLEUS started their Autumn Series well with wins over Fiji and beating Australia in Paris before losing to their betes noirs, Argentina a week later, in the same venue. During that series Phillipe Saint-Andre called up Rory Kockott, Uli Antonio, Scott Spedding, Teddy Thomas and Alexandre Dumoulin for the first time and seemed to find his half-back partnership of RC Toulon scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Clermont-Auvergne’s left-footed outside-half Camille Lopez. Tilllous-Borde and Dumoulin have been ruled out of this weekend’s opening fixture at the Stade de France to Scotland with Brice Dulin and Sofiane Guitone in for them. Thierry Dusatoir captains the side from flanker having missed last year’s championship through injury.

Last year, the French were within three points of winning the Championship with 10 minutes of play to go before Jonathan Sexton secured Ireland’s victory and a happy retirement Six Nations medal for Brian O’Driscoll. They finished fourth on points difference but that day’s try scorer Dmitri Szarzewski is not named in Saint-Andre’s squad this year. During the November tests back such as South African born back-three Scott Spedding and Racing-Metro’s Teddy Thomas shone, despite Thomas being dropped for missing a video session, whilst Damian Chouly began to prove his worth at the international level after some decent performances in the yellow of Clermont.

This is most likely Saint-Andre’s final Six Nations Championship, he has never managed to finish higher than fourth in the final table, and will look to improve on this while looking ahead to the World Cup in September. Both Italy and Ireland are in France’s World Cup pool, so early bragging rights and confident boosts could definitely help a French team that is well-known for their internal motivation and confidence.

The meat of the squad come from the in-form Top 14 and European Champions Cup side, Guilhelm Guirado might get the nod in front of Benjamin Kayser in the number two jersey, whilst the Stade Francais pair of Pascal Pape and Alexandre Flanquart could lock-up but tough Toulouse second-row will most probably pip 13-times capped Flanquart. Bayonne back-row Charles Ollivon was named in the preliminary squad but was injured playing for his Basque club side, and has been replaced by Wenceslas Laurent, predominantly a flanker. Louis Picamoles joins Ollivon on the injured list with an injured thigh and debutant Loann Goujon takes his place. Morgan Parra was called up last week, to support Tillous-Borde and Kockott whilst Remi Tales and Camille Lopez are his options at fly-half. The back-line has years of experience, quality and ability, now Alexandre Dumoulin is injured Wesley Fofana and two-time European Cup winner Mathieu Bastareaud should pair up in the centres, with the back-three a mix of Yoann Huget, the aforementioned Spedding and for me, Sofiane Guitone, who on his day is up there with the best finishers in world rugby, but yet is prove this at the highest level, so I see PSA picking Teddy Thomas.

France have to travel to London and Dublin, two of the hardest places to go in the Championship, but not impossible to win at. They face Ireland in Round 2 then welcome Wales in Round 3. If things go their way at the Aviva Stadium, their wings will be flying and Camille Lopez, on the front foot will be able to bring the mercurial Wesley Fofana more and more in to the game, following half a season together in Clermont. This all could set-up a title decider at Twickenham with Le Crunch, six months before the Rugby World Cup begins. France’s squad includes over half a dozen players born outisde l’Hexagone, but if they show even a drop of passion Gauteng-born Scott Spedding showed singing les Marseillaises in November Saint-Andre could finish his Six Nations experience with a win, but it all starts with beating Scotland at home. With the French it is always a case of game-by-game.

Young Player to look out for: Sofiane Guitone

Star Player: Wesley Fofana

Most tries Six Nations 2015: Wesley Fofana