Thursday 30 January 2020 11:43 am

French revolution: Galthie's radical overhaul gives France new aura of unpredictability

It was the World Cup match that never was as Typhoon Hagibis ripped through Japan.

But on Sunday France and England will face one another at the Stade de France on the opening weekend of a Six Nations that promises fresh faces and change — for no team more than Les Bleus. 

Former assistant Fabien Galthie has been promoted to head coach, replacing Jacques Brunel, and has not hesitated to make his mark by naming 19 uncapped players in the 42-man squad that assembled in Paris last weekend.

New head coach Fabien Galthie has torn apart the France squad to bring in 19-uncapped players.

Among the 50-year-old’s radical overhaul are seven players with fewer than five caps and seven of the Junior World Cup-winning side, with the emphasis firmly on youth.

France are widely fancied to challenge for a first Six Nations title in a decade, but Galthie’s selection suggests he is looking beyond just the next two months and has an eye fixed on the 2023 World Cup, which they will host. 

France look to the past

There is previous in France for this kind of upheaval. Former head coach, Marc Lievremont capped a record 13 new players at the 2008 Six Nations. They would finish a respectable third and repeat that performance the following year before going on to win the Grand Slam in 2010.

The next year they reached the World Cup final, losing 8-7 to hosts New Zealand, but could and should have won. 

That tournament is also remembered for players revolting against Lievremont, but the idea of overhauling the squad with an eye for the future is one that Galthie appears to have adopted. 

France v New Zealand - IRB RWC 2011 Final
France’s last revolution ended in World Cup final defeat to New Zealand in 2011

However, the French rugby fraternity is not renowned for patience and, in fairness, it is impossible not to be excited by the talent coming through across the Channel.

It is symptomatic of French rugby’s change in approach as Top14 sides increasingly recognise the importance of producing and nurturing talent rather than throwing money at global stars. This season they have three sides in the quarter-finals of both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup. 

And there were promising signs in Japan as Les Bleus came within touching distance of the semi-finals, only for a Sebastien Vahaamahina red card to sabotage their efforts against Wales.

Emerging talent

At half-back, the flourishing partnership between Antoine Dupont, 23, and Romain Ntamack, 21, is so exciting that Galthie has left out Maxime Machenaud and Camille Lopez — even if it means a lack of experience in vital positions. Ntamack is the oldest fly-half in the squad. 

They also have excellent runners outside of them in Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas, who have produced outstanding rugby for Racing 92 on the European stage this season, as well as the versatile Damian Penaud, 23, who was one of France’s stand-out backs last year. 

Wales v France - Rugby World Cup 2019: Quarter Final
Flanker Charles Ollivon will captain the side and at 26 is one of the squad’s more senior members.

Up front they are just as well stocked and flankers Charles Ollivon, 26, and Gregory Alldritt, 22, will be a great match for England’s Sam Underhill and Tom Curry.

However, France will sorely miss Camille Chat, 24, who is perhaps the pick of their pack. He was set to replace Guilhem Guirado in the No2 jersey but has since been ruled out with injury. 

It means more responsibility will fall on the shoulders of 19-stone prop Jefferson Poirot, who at 27 is one of the senior squad members.

Then there are the backroom changes, with former Wales coach Shaun Edwards and ex-France captain Rafa Ibanez coming in to support Galthie. 

Edwards in particular will give England reason for concern, with the 53-year-old looking to impart the knowledge that yielded Wales so much success over the last 12 years. His first outing with Wales in 2008 was a 26-19 win at Twickenham. 

His no-nonsense approach may be just what the mercurial French need as they embark on a new era.