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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
©INPHO/Colm O'Neill Louis Picamoles is a beast.
# Les blues
All you need to know about France ahead of the Six Nations
We’ve taken a look at how Les Bleus are shaping up for this year’s tournament.

We’ll be studying each of the Six Nations candidates over the coming days, examining their form, key men, likely starting teams and more.

Today, we start with France, who surprisingly ended up bottom of the pile last season.

Who’s their coach?

Philippe Saint-André is still the man in charge, despite the growing impression that he may be ill-equipped to lead Les Bleus to glory. Having taken over as head coach in 2012 following France’s player-driven run to the 2011 World Cup final, the former Toulon boss has struggled to convince.

Previous spells at Sale, Bourgoin and Gloucester had seen Saint-André enjoy some success, but so far his era at the helm of France’s international set-up hasn’t sparked consistently strong form.

The 46-year-old says 2013 was all about development for France, but claims that the “learning is finished. Now, we must produce results and performances.”

How’s the form les gars?

There were recent signs of improvement, but overall France are in a slump. 2013 saw Saint-André’s men win just two of their 11 fixtures, beating Tonga and Scotland. The performances against South Africa and New Zealand in November were more encouraging, but memories of France’s Six Nations campaign last year linger.

An opening weekend defeat away to Italy was compounded by losing to Wales in Paris. England rubbed salt in the wounds, before a draw in Dublin and a home win against Scotland saved the day. The summer saw three consecutive losses to New Zealand, including a 30-0 humbling in Christchurch.

There is plenty of hope though – France have won the last four Six/Five Nations competitions that have followed a Lions tour: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010. Omens if ever there were any.

So have they sorted out their out-half problems?

imageCastres playmaker Rémi Talès will be wearing number 10 for France. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Not definitively just yet, but there is hope for the future thanks to the magnificent form of Stade Français’ Jules Plisson, who was included in the 30-man preliminary France squad. However, the 22-year-old will have to bide his time, as Rémi Talès is set to continue in the position in which he started all three November Tests.

The Castres man only made his debut last year in New Zealand and at 29, is a latecomer to the international game. Still, Saint-André is a fan and Talès has directed play admirably with his range of passing skills. Doubts remain over his kicking game however, while Jimmy Gopperth recently showed up Talès’ defensive weaknesses.

Frédéric Michalak has not been included in their 30-man squad; that saga is at an end.

What’s their weak point?

Ronan O’Gara is among the foreign coaches in the Top 14 to have spoken about the relative lack of speed in many Top 14 games. There has certainly been a dearth of high-tempo encounters in France’s top tier this season, even if it does occasionally reach heights that other European leagues cannot match.

Still, France appear to have struggled to adapt when switching into international mode at times in the past couple of seasons. They were shocked by Italy’s willingness to run at them and offload in the opening round of last year’s Six Nations, so there is something of a template in that.

Who’ll be kicking at goal?

Morgan Parra is still on his way back to full fitness after knee injury, and has missed the cut for France’s opening game against England. He will be back at some stage of the tournament, but for now Jean Marc-Doussain’s superior place-kicking may get him the nod ahead of Maxime Machenaud at scrum-half.

imageParra is still on his way back from a knee injury. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Talès doesn’t kick off the tee, meaning one of those typically French nines will assume responsibility.

The key man is…

You can’t look beyond No. 8 Louis Picamoles in terms of sheer importance to France, particularly given Saint-André’s Anglo-Saxon preference for strong forward play as the basis for their game plan. The Toulouse man is a fearsome ball carrier, while his in-contact defensive skills are superb too.

France will look to take the English head on up front on the opening weekend, recognising that they must deal with Stuart Lancaster’s imposing pack if they are to win. Picamoles will be leading the surge.

Who’s missing through injury?

The big one in this regard is obviously captain Thierry Dusautoir, one of world rugby’s best leaders-by-example. The Toulouse flanker has damaged a tendon in his right biceps, ruling him our for up to four months. Parra is also missing for the first round of fixtures at least, but hopes to come back into the mix soon.

Back row Fulgence Ouedraogo is also missing, having had a shoulder operation in December.

Likely starting XV

B Dulin; Y Huget, M Bastareaud/G Fickou, W Fofana, M Médard; R Talès, JM Doussain; Y Forestier/T Domingo, B Kayser, N Mas; P Papé, Y Maestri; A Burban, Y Nyanga, L Picamoles.

How do you think France will fare this season? Send your predictions our way…

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