World Cup Preview: France

Group A Opposition: New Zealand, Tonga, Japan, Canada

Pedigree: Close, but no cigar. Beaten finalists twice, and usually find themselves at the sharp end of the tournament. Generally capable of one huge performance, but can’t back it up. Still, New Zealand know all about them.

Players to watch: Backrow looks a particular strength. Thierry Dusatoir holds things together when all around him are collapsing, while space will need to be found for Louis Picamoles, who thrived at Toulouse this year, and Fulgence Ouedraogo, who was inspirational for Montpellier. Could Harinordoquy be squeezed out? Further back, Lievremental might have left WoC hero Clement at home, but we are very excited about Maxime Mermoz – Perpignan were classy with him and ordinary without.

Good Tournament: France have the talent and the set piece platform to make a serious statement, and should be looking to make the final.

Bad Tournament: If they fail to make the semi-final, Lievremont will be in trouble.

Prospects: It all comes down to the whims of one man: Marc Lievremont. Who will he pick? Nobody knows. What style will his team play? We haven’t a clue. After four years of erratic selections and baffling press conferences, they haven’t really progressed. They still beat Ireland, struggle against England, ambush one SH giant and get tonked by another (or even the same one) every year.

The squad Lievremont has selected is typically enigmatic. Lionel Beauxis and Clement Poitrenaud will be spending September at home. After appearing to be tied to Chabal for four years, he has finally cut him loose. Bayonne’s Yoann Huget – a poor man’s Shane Horgan at best – has survived the cut thus far, but there is seemingly no place for the vastly superior Julien Malzieu. And we still haven’t worked out what Damien Traille is for.

Nonetheless, there is an impressive depth of talent at France’s disposal. The backrow we have already discussed; and France should have the best scrum in the tournament, regardless of which props they pick from Domingo, Mas, Barcella, Poux and Marconnet. In Maxime Medard and Vincent Clerc they have outside backs capable of changing matches. At half-back, Parra is a marvellous player, and Francois Trinh-Duc, while not to everyone’s taste, has had a great season with Montpellier. The question remains: will the manager gel the team?

Lievremont has already spoken about putting out a B-team in the game against New Zealand, under the (not entirely ridiculous) logic that they won’t beat them twice. Assuming they do away with Tonga and the minnows, this would leave them with a probable quarter-final against the old enemy, England. Les Rosbifs dumped France out in the semi-finals in 2003 and 2007, with France fancied on both occasions. It would be a rare tournament where France do not put in one memorable performance; in all likelihood this will have to be it if they are to make it to the semi-finals or beyond. Otherwise, the guillotine beckons for Lievremont.

Verdict: Despite huge talent and one eye already on Johnno’s men, they will find it hard to overcome England in a quarter final.

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6 Comments

  1. My prediction concurs with your – France will go out in the quarters to England and Lievremont will lose his job. Am looking forward to the Ireland friendly next month but not sure it'll tell us too much. I expect the ABs to beat them comfortably in the group stages and wouldn't be surprised if Tonga and Canada push them as well.

  2. Hi Chris – looks like they've pretty much accepted that they can't beat the All Blacks in the group stage, so a shakedown with England in the quarter finals is looking likely. I think they'll be untroubled by Tonga and Canada though – for all France's flaws, they are usually well equipped to swat away minnows; when they can play their fast paced game unencumbered they can really work the scoreboard.The only caveat is that you just never know with France, and it wouldn't be beyond them to pull something out of the fire and surprise us all. They have the talent.

  3. Hmm, Ouedraogo and Dusa are both open-sides, so they're unlikely to be picked together. Most likely Picamoles at 8 and L'Imanol at blind-side.Since the French number their flankers Saffer-style, expect Lievremont to be castigated for the "bizarre" selection of IH at 7; a mistake which even WoC has succumbed to, IIRC.

  4. Do they – I thought they just had more fluid positioning – most French flankers can play either side. SA and Argentina I know go 6 for the openside, but I didn't think France did?

  5. Definitely. Ever see Serge Betsen in a (blue) no. 7?

  6. Livremont has played Dusa on the blindside a good few times, and he and Ouedroago have played together at 6 and 7 before. French flank play is definitely more fluid, they've a very interchangeable idea of the responsibilities of the 6 and 7. Dusa is the archetypal 6.5; he has the tackle count of a 6, but he pops up to link the play in the style of a 7 too.

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