RWC: 5 Things You Need to Know About France

RWC: 5 Things You Need to Know About France

RWC: 5 Things You Need to Know About France

There is not a more clichéd or stereotyped team than the French. Nor are those stereotypes unfair on Les Bleus, however. They tend to win with saviour-faire, in alignment with the French stereotype. But they also lose in abject capitulations, also in line with the stereotype unfairly placed upon the rest of France. They are every bit as prone to off-field drama – just as they are typecast. It’s another cliché, but it really does depend which French team turns up as to how they’ll do in a game.

The good news is, the French usually bring the noise at the World Cup.

1.  Outstanding World Cup Record

Sebastien Chabal staring down the haka. The French miss him. So do I.

The French bring the wood when they roll up to a Rugby World Cup. They’ve been to the final three times. That’s only equalled by Australia, New Zealand and England. That, of course, makes them the most consistent World Cup performers outside those who have won the tournament. In fact, they’ve only missed making the semis once. And there’s only one team who matches that – the All Blacks.

And it’s the contest with the All Blacks which is the most intriguing part of that record for the French. While Les Bleus’ record against New Zealand is as abysmal as anyone else’s generally, when it comes to World Cups, that record improves dramatically. In the time since the World Cup began being contested, France have met New Zealand 34 times and have won just eight of those. However, in World Cup competition, they have won two of the six games they’ve played. And most of those games have always been in the finals series. The French are big game players.

2.  French Flair

The idea of ‘French Flair’ is a well worn cliché in the Rugby world, but it is a deserved one. Les Bleus are not known for winning ugly. That tend to either win with beautiful, flowing, attacking Rugby or go out in a demonstrative implosion as handling errors, lateral running and poor kicking spirals out of control. But, to the spectator’s benefit, the trainwrecks are as entertaining as the pretty wins. So, if their job is to entertain, the French do not disappoint.

There is no more pertinent example of what the French can achieve when they are on song as the 1999 semifinal against the All Blacks. down 24-10 early in the second half, the French didn’t capitulate as the stereotype (and their reputation) suggested they would. Instead, they threw caution to the wind and came up with one of those special moments and scored 33 unanswered points, befuddling the previously dominant All-Blacks.

Les Bleus will need to capture the spirit of that 1999 campaign if they are to progress to the semifinals again this year.

3.  Consistency is Key

Celebrate England

Celebrations as England are dispatched at the 2011 RWC

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. So will the commentators, every pundit you read between now and the World Cup, and just about every forum comment you’ll see. How France plays depends on which team turns up. Will they attack with fervour and keep their heads up when they are behind or will they run out thinking about girls in the crowd or whatever it is that keeps French blokes from looking like they are in a Rugby game?

It’s hard to predict when it will happen, too. Their 2012 tour of the southern hemisphere and subsequent return leg in November saw them win four on the trot, including a savaging of Australia at Stade de France, 33-6. But their next Six Nations campaign was a travesty. They had a little lie down against lowly Italy in the first match and they decided to stay in bed the rest of the tournament. At the 2011 World Cup, the team had a very public spat with then coach, Mark Lievremont. The team undermined Lievremont, effectively sacked him and chose to manage themselves internally. The result? They made the final and lost by a single point to arch-nemesis, New Zealand.

No amount of studying the form or gazing into a crystal ball can predict how Les Bleus will perform on a given day.

4.  The Centres

Getting good, front foot ball from the forwards is an important facet for every team, as are accurate and fast service from the halves. But for France, the key to their performance lies in their centre-pairing. Wesley Fofana provides the scything line breaks and Rugby nous while Mathieu Bastaraud provides the brute force and ignorance. The French rely on these two to provide the opportunities to their outside backs for the flair we repeatedly hear about.

Fofana is a mercurial runner of the ball and possesses a change of direction that few can match. But it is his positioning and timing which mean he is one of the best inside centres in the world. He runs straight, hard lines, but show him a crack in the defensive line and he’ll find a way to break it. And he doesn’t just provide opportunities for the outside backs, he’s an tryscorer himself, having 11 to his name in the French colours.

Bastaraud is somewhat inconsistent and cops criticism for being more tight head prop than centre. And at 183cm and 120kg, you can see why. But that criticism is short sighted. He is an explosive athlete and, on his day, doesn’t so much bend the line as smash it into little bits. He provides the perfect foil to Fofana and the need to double-team him in defence opens holes for Wesley at 12.


Fofana – can find a gap


Bastaraud – Makes his own


5. The Prognosis


Les Blues famously face the haka before the 2011 final

Pool D is probably the easiest pool to predict in terms of who will go through to the quarter finals. France and Ireland are expected to top the pool, but finishing on top will have the added bonus of not having to face New Zealand in their quarter final. Both would rather face Argentina. Oddly, though, France may not care about that as much as Ireland. They have a reputation as being the team which gives the All Blacks nightmares. There is no question that Les Bleus lift when they play the Kiwis in the World Cup.

The French will have a tough ask to knock Ireland off and the recent form would say that it will be France who face the All Blacks after the pool rounds. I think Les Bleus will be bundled out at that point, but – as the cliché goes – you never know which French team will show up.

  • Brendan Hume

    that image of Dusautoir spearheading the French in facing the haka gives me goosebumps. He could have a ‘thing’ all to himself such was his influence in that RWC final.

    • Chris M

      He well could have. Definitely my equal favourite French player.

  • Grant NZ

    NZ have actually played France 6 times at the RWC, I’m guessing you forgot the 3/4 playoff in 2003.

    • Chris M

      Just a miscount. Happens when you’re going through as many stats as I have recently. It was actually the pool match in 2011 I missed. As evidenced by the line that says all of their matches have been in finals series.


  • Tomthusiasm

    France are always up for it come RWC time, NZ will have their hand’s full against either them or Ireland.

  • Braveheart81

    Another cracking preview Chris. You’ve contributed greatly to building the excitement heading towards the RWC. Only 10 more sleeps!

    • Chris M

      Thanks mate. Can’t wait for kickoff.

  • Patrick

    France are my second team (relationships oblige!) and I still resent their loss to NZ in 2011.

    I don’t want them to win and they don’t deserve to but I certainly want them to play and beat NZ in a QF!!

    • Grant NZ

      I take it you don’t resent their win in 2007 though?

      • Patrick

        No why?

        • Grant NZ

          No reason at all. Eyeball.

        • Grant NZ

          Hahaha – eyeROLL. Love that autocorrect.

  • Nutta

    One thing I always admired of the French is their scrum (I know – shock & horror for me to say that). But in particular I note they often have far more athletic and svelte appearing Fronties. They tend not to look like the “condom full of walnuts” typical of the Saffas or Argies nor the “Cell Block B” types of the English or NZ, but they still certainly bring the power when it matters. And they don’t mind a punch-on either I recall (just ask Peter Fitz or Eales for their recollections)

    For what it’s worth, my favourite French player is a toss-up between Abdel Benazzi & “Le Lunatic” Armand Vaquerin.

    • Keith Butler

      Benazzi was a class player the first what I would call modern day forward. But I’ll see your Benazzi and Vaquerin and raise you Michael Palmie and Gerard Cholley circa 1978. Two true psycho’s. The other six in that pack were just as awesome.

      • Nutta

        Yeh but Cholley went beyond hard man to an unsavoury place for me. Only my opinion – each to their own.

        • Keith Butler

          Sorry Nutta you’re quite right and I should have made my comment clearer. I didn’t condone the way they played they were just plain thugs. But Rives the 7 and Skrela the 6 were world class at that time and Papamborde was just a world class prop. At the time, I don’t think there was an international team that didn’t have one or two ‘animals’ in their pack. The name Steve Finnane springs to mind for the Aussies.

        • Nutta

          You are correct, it was a different time. And yes, Steve Finnane had a moment or two of infamy in his own right. Rives was certainly an interesting guy. He had such an uncompromising style of play juxtaposed with the “Jesus hair” and the painting & poetry off on the side

  • Relance

    Great preview Chris. As a Frenchman, I was pleasantly surprised to find the team cast in such a positive light after what have been 4 harrowing years. Oddly enough, I find myself having to temper the enthusiasm ! Just a few comments:

    -PSA’s record is abysmally low: a 42% win ratio, compared with 60% for the much-maligned Lièvremont, 68% for Laporte II, 57% for Laporte I, 65% for Skrela-Villepreux and 70% for Berbizier. I wouldn’t be looking for mitigating circumstances as he’s had a few advantages his predecessors didn’t enjoy. Another striking figure: France has not been ranked higher than 4th in the 6 Nations since PSA took over. We finished 6th twice and would have been deserved wooden spooners once, save for a miserable draw. Each of the other coaches won the Grand Slam at least once, Lièvremont included (who, again, for all his shortcomings, still won the Dave Gallaher Trophy in New Zealand in 2009).

    -French Flair has been meticulously stamped out by the current staff. No wonder PSA was nicknamed “3 fingers” by Toulon’s supporters when he coached there, and that wasn’t for fist-f***ing prowess. Initiatives and risk-taking are discouraged, players are desperately clinging to poorly-conceived pre-established multi-phase play (the very opposite of flair) and training sessions favour compartmentalised exercises at the expense of general play. That’s the only point where I disagree with your preview: the idea that players took power and sacked the coaches at the last RWC is a bit of a journalistic myth. Lièvremont explicitly asked them to tell him to f*** off, and the only power they seized was the power to apply their own game plan, to free themselves in a way, which is the enabling factor of French flair.

    -PSA, unlike Lièvremont, seems bent on replicating the Toulon and Laporte II gameplan: defence (Lagisquet is a poor attack coach but a master of the up & out system, à la Biarritz 2006), occupation, scrum & strong breakdown > penalties. Rinse & repeat. As for tries, just pray for individual brilliance (which is definitely not flair). This gameplan, however restrictive and ugly, could work. However, the French lack 2 things here: a) the players, as PSA is using a creative 10 with short-range kicks, no 5/8 and a 9 who cannot box-kick; b) the lack of discernible patterns in attack and, frankly, appalling offensive realignment. Laporte II was partly efficient because he had the players and the blocks system in attack.

    -Some of you might point out that Lièvremont’s gameplan wasn’t much more settled in 2011. You’re right. But he didn’t chastise their ambitions, and he had the players to resurrect French flair. Today, unless we field Nyanga and Ouedraogo in the backrow, a Dumoulin-Fofana centre pairing and Dulin at fullback, I can’t see any form of French flair popping up. As it stands, we’ll be playing with a defensive backrow (a linebreaker in Picamoles but poor support players in Dusautoir and Chouly / Le Roux), a perforating 12 that rarely passes and always ends up isolated whenever he breaks the line as his 13 is too damn slow for international rugby, and a 15 that is to the straight line for rugby what Le Corbusier was for urban planning.

    I’m eager to see whether PSA has really removed all traces of flair in that French team ! I really think he has, which leaves us with the up-against-the-wall attitude. I expect us to beat Ireland and go down to Argentina.

    • Chris M

      It’s awesome to see comment from someone who has an innate understanding of a team’s game. Thank you.

      France stands up in World Cups. I hope they do again.

      • Relance

        Thanks mate ! I guess the advantage of having a crappy coach is that it forces you to take a good hard look at where it all went pear-shaped. Anyway, I still have a bit of faith (for the anecdote, the French federation had none in 1999 before the semi-final: they didn’t even book a hotel for the final and the French management scraped to find one; they eventually managed to book one in the suburbs, where a marriage was held and French supporters were all over the place!). Anything but the soap dodgers really. I’ll be cheering for the Wallabies as well, I really think you stand a good chance of winning it, and I wish I had the pooper on my team.

    • Patrick

      I agree with all that. They have become so frustrating to watch. Each time PSA just blames his players, for being incapable of understanding the game plan or of carrying it out, how many times does it take for him to see that the only common factor between 600 player combinations and 40 matches is him??

  • subfreq

    France always have ONE cracker in a World Cup. I actually think this year it will be against Ireland.

    Flyhalf will be the downfall, French flair, like all flair, comes from a stable 9/10 axis and Michalak runs hot and cold. Trinh Duc should have been their mainstay for years now but can’t get a look in.

    If not ourselves I would love to see the French win the Web Ellis.


Mrs Mac thinks Chris talks about Rugby far too much. She's probably right. If he's not coaching, he's watching. And if he's not doing either, he's jibbering incessantly about it. He has also been named as a finalist in the Asteron Life Community Coach of the Year for 2015. Mrs Mac remains unimpressed.

More in France