Six Nations 2021 Championship in focus: France

After a genuine renaissance year in 2020, can France go one better and clinch the silverware that alluded them last year in 2021? 

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of France’s opening clash with Italy in Rome…

Fixtures

  • Italy – Stadio Olimpico – Saturday, February 6 – 2.15pm (GMT)
  • Ireland – Aviva Stadium – Sunday, February 14 – 3pm (GMT)
  • Scotland – Stade de France – Sunday, February 28 – 3pm (GMT)
  • England – Twickenham – Saturday, March 13 – 4.45pm (GMT)
  • Wales – Stade de France – Saturday, March 20 – 8pm (GMT)

What’s hot?

Has there been a more impressive team over the last year or so? France have been in wonderful form, playing a brilliant brand of rugby.

Indeed, if not for carelessly conceding a last-gasp losing bonus-point last year while beating England in Paris, France would have clinched the 2020 Six Nations title. Had tighthead Mohamed Haouas not been red-carded in Edinburgh, they almost certainly would have picked up a Grand Slam.

In November, they sent a largely third-string side to face England at Twickenham in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup, and but for some refereeing decisions, would have picked up a marquee victory too.

Depth is perhaps never where it has been before in terms of real, consistent quality of performance.

The coaching ticket of Galthie, Raphael Ibanez and Shaun Edwards have combined to fantastic effect, and the players have responded in spades.

What’s not?

Injuries. France are really struggling with some key injury-enforced absentees.

Star centre Virimi Vakatawa is out for the whole championship due to a knee injury, which comes as a major blow to Galthie and co. Perhaps no player bar scrum-half Antoine Dupont has been as influential as Vakatawa over the last few seasons.

The Racing 92 centre has performed at an exceptional level consistently, and his loss could have huge implications – and he is not the only one out.

Stylish and talented Toulouse out-half Romain Ntamack is out already with a jaw injury, while full-back Thomas Ramos, back-row Gregory Alldritt and hooker Camille Chat are all struggling and doubts for at least parts of the championship.

France, incredibly, have not won a trophy since 2010, and this is also the year where Les Bleus must travel to Dublin and Twickenham – a far tougher proposition. But, that’s not to right France off by any means.

What’s changed?

Since 2020, not much, and France wouldn’t want to change much either such were the calibre of their performances. Before last year though, there was an absolute sea change in French rugby.

Galthie came in with a swagger, arrogance and command. Ibanez with a winning-mentality and media-savvy approach. Edwards with his reputation enhanced off the back of 2019 and considered the best defence coach in the world.

During the 2020 fallow weeks, France kept 28 players in camp – an unprecedented move. The 2023 Rugby World Cup in France seems to have narrowed the focus.

Their squad for the 2020 Six Nations contained 42 players, and not a single one was over the age of 30. A youthful selection policy which has continued into 2021.

For the first time in a decade, France won their opening three Championship games and won away in Wales. In fact, it was the first time in nine years that France won away to any previous Six Nations champion (England, Ireland or Wales).

They enter 2021 imbued with enormous confidence and with silverware firmly in focus for the first time in over a decade.

Key player

Antoine Dupont. One of the easier ones to pick out from the nations this year, Toulouse scrum-half Dupont is performing at a genuinely world-class level.

The 24-year-old would walk into any side in world rugby at present, such are his qualities and influence at Test level.

Dupont dictates play with his sharp passing, controls passages with his clever kicking game and sparks France into Tests with his incisive breaks and playmaking.

Championship record

Six Nations since 2000: Five-time winners (2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010).

Overall: 12 titles outright (1959, 1961, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1977, 1981, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1997, 1998).

France’s 37-man squad for the 2021 Six Nations:

Forwards (22): Uini Atonio, Cyril Baille, Pierre Bourgarit, Camille Chat, Georges-Henri Colombe Reazel, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Mohamed Haouas, Hassane Kolingar, Julien Marchand, Killian Geraci, Bernard Le Roux, Baptiste Pesenti, Swan Rebbadj, Romain Taofifenua, Paul Willemse, Gregory Alldritt, Dylan Cretin, François Cros, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Selevasio Tolofua, Baptiste Couilloud.

Backs (15): Antoine Dupont, Baptiste Serin, Louis Carbonel, Matthieu Jalibert, Julien Delbouis, Gaël Fickou, Arthur Vincent, Damian Penaud, Donovan Taofifenua, Teddy Thomas, Gabin Villiere, Anthony Bouthier, Brice Dulin, Thomas Ramos, Pierre-Louis Barassi.

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