World Cup Preview: France
POOL C SPOTLIGHT: Preparation has been the keyword for France who has seen a new head coach and a pair of consultants arrive among their staff ahead of the global showpiece.
Jacques Brunel replaced the sacked Guy Noves in December 2017 and former Les Bleus captain Fabien Galthie, who takes over from Brunel after the tournament, as well as ex-Racing 92 boss Laurent Labit has joined the set-up.
They are all looking to continue the French record of reaching at least the quarterfinals of every edition of the tournament.
Standing between them and a last-eight spot and potentially a fourth final appearance in nine editions are Argentina, England, the United States and Tonga.
“In terms of results, we have a difficult pool, our first challenge is to get out of it,” said Brunel. “History shows that France is capable of going very far.”
The impact of the advisors was preceded by 65-year-old Brunel’s decision to drop the experienced pair of Morgan Parra and Mathieu Bastareaud in June from his original squad as they looked to implement a quicker style of play.
After training camps in Monaco and Valencia-based around increasing the fitness of the squad, Brunel, along with Galthie and Labit chose against axing another veteran, in 79-time international Louis Picamoles.
His display in the final warm-up Test, a victory over Italy was enough to book his ticket on the plane for a third World Cup, before he retires from the international scene.
“He responded to the questions we put to him most notably in the match against Italy,” Brunel said.
“He showed his quality and his ability during the big matches,” he added.
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Club to country form
Two others who missed out were lock Felix Lambey and Dany Priso, the pair had been features of Brunel’s lineups and were part of his original squad named at the beginning of the summer, unlike their replacements Charles Ollivon and Cyril Baille.
The duo only made their first appearances under Brunel during warm-up Tests against Scotland and the Azzurri in August.
“We took players who proposed good things during the preparation,” Brunel said.
“It’s without a doubt his [Baille] performances during the matches which made the difference with our decisions,” Brunel added.
One consistency in his selection choices has been among the back-line with the likes of Antoine Dupont, Yoann Huget and Damien Penad being mainstays.
The trio was key as their club sides, Toulouse and Clermont, reached the French domestic final in dominant fashion in June.
“What the new members of the staff have brought in has been good too, more detailed, more to do with the structures. A gameplan where we can kick, we can play wide or we can play quite direct,” winger Huget said.
“If we respect all of that I think we can play well,” the 59-time international said.
Despite the recent changes, both on and off the field, Les Bleus will look to those individuals to transfer their club form to the international scene if they have any chance of maintaining their record as the only Six Nations side to have reached the quarterfinals at every World Cup.
Player to watch:
Antoine Dupont. The nuggetty Toulouse scrumhalf burst onto the Test scene two years ago and has cemented his position as Les Bleus’ first choice scrumhalf with impressive performances during this year’s Six Nations before winning the French Top 14 title with his club in June.
Aim for the tournament:
“In terms of results, we have a difficult pool, our first challenge is to get out of it, history shows after that France are capable of going very far,” coach Jacques Brunel.
Population: 66 million
Coach: Jacques Brunel (France, since December 2017)
Number of registered players: 258,247
World Rugby ranking: eight (September 9, 2019)
World Cup record:
1995: Third place
2003: Fourth place
2007: Fourth place
Pool matches (all times GMT):
France v Argentina
Date: September 21
France v United States
Date: October 2
France v Tonga
Date: October 6
England v France
Date: October 12
Backs: Maxime Medard (Toulouse), Thomas Ramos (Toulouse), Yoann Huget (Toulouse), Damian Penaud (Clermont), Alivereti Raka (Clermont), Wesley Fofana (Clermont), Gael Fickou (Stade Francais), Sofiane Guitoune (Toulouse), Virimi Vakatawa (Racing 92), Camille Lopez (Clermont), Romain Ntamack (Toulouse), Antoine Dupont (Toulouse), Maxime Machenaud (Racing 92), Baptiste Serin (Toulon).
Forwards: Gregory Alldritt (La Rochelle), Yacouba Camara (Montpellier), Arthur Iturria (Clermont), Charles Ollivon (Toulon), Wenceslas Lauret (Racing 92), Louis Picamoles (Montpellier), Paul Gabrillagues (Stade Francais), Bernard Le Roux (Racing 92), Sebastien Vahaamahina (Clermont), Demba Bamba (Lyon), Emerick Setiano (Toulon), Rabah Slimani (Clermont), Camille Chat (Racing 92), Guilhem Guirado (Montpellier-capt), Peato Mauvaka (Toulouse), Cyril Baille (Toulouse), Jefferson Poirot (Bordeaux-Begles).