The French have always been known for their mercurial talents on a rugby pitch. With a penchant for free flowing running rugby and a panache for flair they have a reputation in world rugby as some of the great entertainers of the game.
The converse side to their game though is as much a part of their reputation as the entertaining side, as they have also got the reputation for flaky, shaky performances. The saying “you never know which France team will turn up” does not get bandied around for no reason.
The current crop of French players is no different in many ways in terms of shaky performances, except that if anything they seem to have lost the flair and the free flowing running rugby is becoming a far less recognisable part of their game.
An enormous amount of foreign players playing in the top sides of the Top 14 is the supposed reason to blame for this diminishing in the national side’s fortunes. Foreign players being paid top money to play for the top teams in the league is certainly a story that England football fans can empathise with as the Premier League continues to be blamed as a hinderance on the development of young English talent. The French, though, seem less happy to accept this fate when compared to the FA.
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The selection of former Toulouse coach Guy Noves, a veteran of the Top 14 who cultivated and brought through many excellent french players during his time in charge at the Stade Ernest-Wallon, appears to be a step in the right direction for France although results are yet to start going their way consistently.
Selection has been inconsistent too and this is another issue worth looking at for the French as they move ahead with their team development. England have certainly benefitted from Eddie Jones making consistent selections with the odd tweak and this is something Noves has been trying to bring through.
This autumn France host Samoa, Australia and New Zealand and as a first step to taking them back to world rugby greatness this is the starting XV we at Pundit Arena think ought to be selected to tackle the challenges that the French face as they play the 14th, 3rd and best teams in the world.
15. Maxime Medard
14. Virimi Vakatawa
13. Gael Fickou
12. Wesley Fofana
11. Yoann Huget
10. Francois Trinh-Duc
9. Baptiste Serin
In the back three Medard and Huget should be allowed to maintain their club relationship and combine it with the exciting talent that Vakatawa provides out wide. Although neither of the Toulouse men is in sensational form currently, their relationship at club level could be important in a back three that in recent years has not gelled. Medard’s elusive running game when on form surpasses that of Scott Spedding, who appears clumpy at times and often elects to kick rather than counter attack.
In the midfield, the formidable Wesley Fofana should be allowed time to bond with the talented young Gael Fickou who deserves a run in the starting lineup for the national side after always impressing when given appearances for them.
Francois Trinh-Duc gets the nod over Jules Plisson as his experience and game management is invaluable at international level, not to mention that his partnership with the young Bordeaux scrum half Baptiste Serin gave Noves his first away win as France manager.
1. Eddy Ben-Arous
2. Guilhelm Guirado
3. Uini Atonio
4. Alexandre Flanquart
5. Yoann Maestri
6. Damien Chouly
7. Charles Ollivon
8. Louis Picamoles
In the front row Eddy Ben-Arous and Atonio take the prop slots with the captain, Guilhelm Guirado, maintaining his hold on the hooker’s shirt. Guirado is perhaps the most important member of this France squad, as his dynamism, set-piece consistency and passion for the shirt makes him such a talisman for this team.
In the second row Yoann Maestri should be given the chance to lay down his mark as a real enforcer in world rugby as he is partnered with Alexandre Flanquart who’s height and dynamism enables him to be the main lineout exponent.
The back row picks itself on current form – as Louis Picamoles, not originally selected in Noves’ ‘elite squad’ in July, has shown excellent form in new surroundings at Northampton Saints. Chouly remains a work horse and good ball carrier at his club Clermont and also offers another leader in this pack.
His flexibility to operate on the blind side allows Toulon youngster Charles Ollivon, who has started the season in such excellent form, his chance in the national side as a destructive and energetic open side candidate.
Hamish Milner, Pundit Arena
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