“In the professional era, France has been consistently one of the best teams in the world between 1996 and 2011. During this 16-year period, they won seven Six Nations and finished second three times. Since 2011 we have never ranked better than third and I don’t see us doing better in 2018. The main reason why French rugby is so disappointing is its incapacity to adapt to this new total rugby which requires very high skills and perfect organisation.”
An extract from a fascinating article written by Ambroise Blanulet for The 1014 that delves into the problems of French rugby.
Just over six years ago, France headed into the 2012 Six Nations on the back off losing the World Cup final against one of the greatest teams of all time by the smallest of margins.
They had also never finished outside the top three in the Six Nations’ then 12-year history, but now they seem to be absolutely nowhere.
Remarkably, since they first finished outside the top three in 2012, France finished in the bottom half every year until 2017’s third-place finish.
Can they cement a top-three berth? Or will it end in failure again like we have seen so often in the last few seasons?
The French pack is well organised and even through this difficult period, it has shown itself capable of winning games through dominating up-front.
This was seen most clearly perhaps when they beat England in the 2015 World-Cup warm-up, and last year when they beat Wales on the final day. They will not be easy to take on up-front.
France have managed to maintain a strong back three, in part, because of foreign imports. Nevertheless, they do still have some homegrown talent.
But it is questionable as to how much rugby the likes of Gabriel Lacroix and Teddy Thomas will play as they battle with Fijian wingers Nao Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa for those starting spots.
French rugby is in disarray off the field. Sacking the greatest club coach they’ve ever had after less than two years in charge may not seem the wrong decision given recent results, but in Jacques Brunel, who has not succeeded in a role since 2011, they have hardly replaced Guy Noves with a genius.
This, along with the fact that President Bernard Laporte is being investigated by the police and the FFR offices being raided show the disastrous state they are in at the moment.
Confidence is on the floor, and while the French clubs have had real success in Europe, they just don’t have the kind of numbers of homegrown players that, say, Ireland do, for this club success to be guaranteed to the national team.
The key men
Guilhem Guirado has made his way into many teams of the tournament in the last two years and will be an important leader and component in a pack that has potential to dominate teams.
He has always made an impact, but will need to pick up a team low on confidence.
Louis Picamoles is even more important. He will be massively important in providing the French with go-forward. If the French get front-foot ball, then they could be dangerous.
The difference between success and failure
Inspiration. How much can Jacques Brunel motivate his troops? Confidence is so low in French rugby at the moment, but perhaps the new coach can come in and inspire them.
Also crucial will be how their pack performs. Fly-halves Anthony Belleau and Francois Trinh-Duc have looked good for Toulon off quick, attacking ball, but that comes down to whether they can win the battle in the pack.
Why they’ll finish fifth and what this will mean
France are all over the shop at the moment and will come up against four organised and improving opponents who will be able to beat them.
Ireland is a horrible opener while trips to Wales and Scotland will prove very difficult and if England are going to lose a game, it’s hard to imagine it will be France.
Jacques Brunel’s job won’t be in trouble, but if they do finish fifth, you really have to fear the worst for their summer tour of New Zealand…
Nick Powell, Pundit Arena