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Six Nations preview: much to ponder as France shape up for another tilt

It’s the most wonderful time of the year if you’re a rugby fan. We kick off our Six Nations preview with a look at the defending champs. Allez les bleus!

Image: FRANCOIS MORI/AP/Press Association Images

WHEN IT COMES to the Six Nations, France always appear to be there or thereabouts.

After all, this is the country which has  won two Six Nations championships and three Grand Slams in the past decade. Though Marc Lièvremont’s side might have had a dismal autumn, including an unforgettable 59-16 walloping at the hands of the Wallabies, they can never be written off. Or can they? We take a look …

How did they do in 2010? Held on for their Grand Slam with a 12-10 home win over England in their final game.

And against Ireland? Saw us off quite convincingly with tries from Servat, Jauzion and Poitrenaud sealing a 33-10 victory in Paris.

This time around? Only a fool would write off Marc Lièvremont’s side on the basis of their performances in the autumn internationals. Although they were ultimately hammered by Australia, they were by no means disgraced until the points starting flowing in the match’s final quarter. Besides, when you tamper with your starting 15 to the extent that the French boss has over the past twelve months, it can often be difficult to get your players to gel.

Lièvremont’s weakness is also his biggest strength. There’s a reason why half of the teams remaining in the Heinken Cup are French, and it’s not because they keep poaching talent from the Irish provinces. There is a wealth of domestic ability on display in the Top 14 at present and the France coaches really are spoilt for choice. After all, how many other coaches in the competition could afford the luxury of leaving out Mathieu Bastareaud or of dropping Yannick Jauzion on a whim to keep things “fresh”?

Without denigrating les Bleus pacy backs, the key to any French success will almost certainly lie in the scrum. Captain Thierry Dusatoir will lead from the back row as always, while any pack containing William Servat, Lionel Nallet, Julien Bonnaire, and IRB World Player of the Year nominee Imanol Harinordoquy is clearly worthy of respect.

Key Man? Aurélien Rougerie has been impressive for Clermont Auvergne in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup this season and Lièvremont’s decision to deploy him at outside centre rather than in his usual spot out on the wing may prove to be a masterstroke.

One to Watch? Twenty-four-year-old Perpignan centre Maxime Mermoz may only have one cap to his name thus far, but when you’re considered good enough to force Yannick Jauzion out of the starting line-up, you know you’re doing something right.

The bookies say? 9/4

TheScore says? They won’t be far off but back-to-back wins in Twickenham and the Aviva is probably slightly too steep a challenge

Pick of the archives?

It has to be Philippe Saint-André’s wonder-try against England in Twickenham in the 1991 Five Nations. When teams can counter-attack with that sort of ferocity, you wouldn’t want to be missing too many penalties. It wasn’t a fluke either, mind you.

Forwards (16): Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Thomas Domingo (Clermont), Luc Ducalcon (Castres), Sylvain Marconnet (Biarritz), William Servat (Toulouse), Guilhem Guirado Guirado (Perpignan), Lionel Nallet (Racing-Métro), Julien Pierre (Clermont), Jerome Thion (Biarritz), Pascale Papé (Stade Français), Thierry Dusautoir (Stade Toulousain, cap.), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont), Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Sebastien Chabal (Racing-Métro), Alexandre Lapandry (Clermont), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz).

Backs (14): Morgan Parra (Clermont), Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz), François Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), DamienTraille (Biarritz), David Skrela (Toulouse), Yannick Jauzion (Toulouse), Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan), David Marty (Perpignan), Aurélien Rougerie (Clermont), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse), Alexis Palisson (Brive), Maxime Médard (Toulouse), Yohan Huget (Bayonne), Clerment Poitrenaud (Toulouse).

Schedule

Saturday 5 February (17:00) France vs Scotland

Sunday 13 February (15:00) Ireland vs France

Saturday 26 February (17:00) England vs France

Saturday 12 March (14:30) Italy vs France

Saturday 19 March (19:45) France vs Wales

Do you fancy the French to take the title again?

Brian O’Driscoll reacts to Will Carling’s unconventional preview of the RBS Six Nations>

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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