The planets have begun to align for French rugby. From the player pool to the coaches, the government to the league structure – everything is in place to achieve the goal of a victorious home World Cup in 2023.
There’s clearly a common goal for the sport in France at the moment and that is why we have seen the domestic clubs understanding that coach Fabien Galthie needs his bigger 42-man training camps and his players for eight consecutive weeks.
I hate the ‘favourites’ label being used – and it’s very useful for other teams to pick out France as the team to beat at this Six Nations – but the potential is there.
There has been a focus, probably following in the footsteps of the English game, on the Under-20s structure and building players up for the senior international stage.
The French squad has seen a lot of rotation in recent years, and we saw a depleted side win in Australia last year, but they are building a reliability about them.
The spine of the team generally stays the same for the bigger Test matches and within that there are world-class players who would stand up in comparison to anyone else on the planet in their respective position.
Look at Cyril Baille at loosehead, Julien Marchand at hooker and Gregory Alldritt in the back row. Few can match them right now.
Then, obviously, take Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, plus Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa on their day, as well as Damian Penaud. They can all perform, whoever they’re playing against.
Ntamack is coming into the Six Nations off the back of an incredible international performance against the All Blacks but Dupont has only played once since the middle of December, so the half-back pair will hopefully use the opening game with Italy – which is still a miniature Everest in this competition – to get back into their rhythm.
For me, though, you need to watch Cameron Woki. The 23-year-old forward is back fit and will be doing so much work that no one sees.
He wasn’t in the side when Galthie started but he’s proven to be incredibly versatile and mobile – made for international rugby. I believe he’s going to be the standout man for Les Bleus over the next few weeks.
To appreciate the Six Nations people need to understand what puts a smile on fans’ faces. We love that rugby is a party. It is overwhelmingly about being yourself but being respectful.
The French respect smaller nations – if I can say that – like Scotland, Ireland and Wales who are truly proud. We want them to be themselves and to rise up to the bigger unions knowing the adversity for 80 minutes will result in a handshake.
This championship is so rich in history, in good and bad memories and in cultural differences that always come together after the final whistle. It’s great.
|French player of the tournament||Cameron Woki|