Six Nations – What’s Happened To France?


One unconvincing win, one humbling loss and one deeply disappointing draw which could have ended in a disastrous defeat - it’s not the Six Nations form expected from a French side rated World Cup favourites barely six months ago, especially considering that, by and large, the personnel has barely changed. So, what has? Here are five possible reasons…

Antoine Dupont is that important
Rugby is rarely a game where a team can revolve around one individual, but the glaring hole at the fulcrum of France’s game-play – and speed thereof – is obvious with Stade Toulousain scrum-half Dupont on sevens duty.

The debate rolls on about who should replace him: Union Bordeaux-Bègles’ Maxime Lucu is a fine player but does not offer the same dynamism, while Racing 92’s Nolann Le Garrec needs a few starts before he will be able to showcase what he can really do. But how does one replace the best player in the world? It is head coach Fabien Galthié’s challenge to solve.

The departure of Raphaël Ibañez
Ibañez, a winner of EPCR’s elite tournament with Wasps in 2007, might have been more significant than people realise. He initially stayed on as France’s team manager after the World Cup quarter-final exit was followed by a bit of a staff shake-up.

However, the 51-year-old was off a month later following a reported breakdown in his relationship with Galthié. The pair are quite different characters, with Ibañez often seen as a pragmatic foil to Galthié’s scientific and idealist philosophy, while more critical viewpoints among the French press paint Galthié as aloof and Ibañez more down to earth and in tune with the squad. Ibañez’s exit may have left a vacuum in player-to-management communication.

The boys are tired!
It’s no secret that the TOP 14 season is a slog, while there were special levels of pressure and commitment on all the players throughout the build-up to the World Cup last year. Downtime was at a premium.

Yet some players were in club action barely a fortnight after losing to South Africa and have been pounding the turf ever since. Plenty of the players simply look off their game as individuals at the moment, and fatigue is not to be discounted as a factor.

Youth not getting enough fling
Last Sunday’s player of the first 60 against Italy could well have been the man-mountain that is USAP lock Posolo Tuilagi. Le Garrec did what he could, but France already looked spent when he came on. Antoine Gibert is having an outstanding season for Racing 92. Montpellier Hérault Rugby’s Arthur Vincent is long overdue another shot in the centre, as is Union Bordeaux-Begles’ Nicolas Depoortère.

The bulk of the 2023 World Cup squad will probably still be active in 2027, but that does not mean that France’s emerging youngsters – of which there are oodles – shouldn’t get a look-in.

Now, especially with fatigue among the seniors a possible factor, would be an ideal time for Galthié to twist and take a couple of selection risks. Defeat to England may mean that June’s internationals will be too late for the under-fire head coach.

Statistical anomaly
France are second in gainline success with carries, committing opposing defenders to rucks, tackle evasion, exit success from their own 22 and scrum wins, while their tackle rate is the highest.

Interestingly, though, they are only fifth in converting line-breaks which lead to tries. The same applies to successful offloads. Perhaps it’s only finishing skills which need a little polish, perhaps these three matches are just an outlying part of a sample and there’s little that is really wrong.