Facing Wales, the French XV is counting on new faces to show a better face

Bordeaux-Bègles center Nicolas Depoortère (center) takes part in a training session of the XV of France before the Six Nations match against Wales, in Marcoussis (Essonne), March 6, 2024. ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP

For supporters of the French the decade without brilliance. Until the arrival of Fabien Galthié in 2019. If the coach’s first mandate went for a long time like a dream, the awakening was brutal against the South Africans in the quarter-finals of the 2023 World Cup.

Since then, the Blues have struggled to get back on their feet. Far from the score against Ireland, miraculous against Scotland and frankly worrying during the duel against Italy (13-13), the XV of France presents the symptoms of a feverish team. It is in this context that he presents himself at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Sunday March 10 at 4 p.m., to face Wales, another sick nation, which occupies the bottom of the Tournament rankings with three defeats in as many matches .

With their hopes of a title already gone, the French now have one objective: to avoid sinking into crisis. “My only satisfaction is when we win the matches, admitted the coach of the conquest, Laurent Sempéré, earlier in the week. Today is difficult for us. » Words reminiscent of those of coach Fabien Galthié, who recognized that his team was “in the tough” a few minutes after the match against Italy.

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Enough to weaken the position of the coach? He “is absolutely not in danger”, swept the president of the French Rugby Federation (FFR), Florian Grill. The duration of his contract – until June 2028 – combined with the financial difficulties of the FFR, make a sudden ousting of the former scrum half quite unlikely.

“He arrived as a savior and had results straight away, notes former Blues hooker Sébastien Bruno, member of the French XV staff alongside Galthié in 2019. For some time now, he has been failing, we will see if he has the resources to get out of this situation. The pressure is suddenly multiplied by ten as soon as the victories do not follow. And you have to be strong to avoid going into a tailspin. »

A wave of changes

To try to stop the negative spiral, the coach was forced to reinvent himself, he who is not known to be a big fan of changes, whether in the method or in the team compositions. After a week of rest – “who has done a lot of good” according to the center Gaël Fickou -, the players met at the Marcoussis training center (Essonne), but were surprised not to know the starters for the weekend from the Tuesday session, as they had habit.

According to Laurent Sempéré, this decision was not taken to “recreate competition”but for “keep the group alive”. “We didn’t want to cover our tracks, added the forwards coach, William Servat. On the contrary, it was to find ourselves. Above all, we needed to have a form of internal emulation. »

As a result, a new version of the French XV will be presented in the overheated atmosphere of the Principality Stadium. Reluctant at the idea of ​​doing without the players who accompanied him during his first mandate – and limiting his changes at the start of the Tournament to the positions left vacant by absences -, Fabien Galthié this time reviewed his group in depth.

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The Stade Français fullback Léo Barré will thus make his first steps in the selection, just like the Bordeaux-Béglais center Nicolas Depoortère or the Toulouse second row Emmanuel Meafou, while the Racing 92 scrum half, Nolann Le Garrec, will experience his first tenure. He will be associated at the hinge with the usual full-back, Thomas Ramos, shifted to the opening due to Matthieu Jalibert’s knee injury.

Maintain discipline and efficiency

“Sometimes change is good, believes Gaël Fickou, who retains his starting place after having suffered his share of criticism at the start competition. The group needs to be stimulated. To question yourself too. It’s the game. I’ve been here a long time and people always expect me to be at my best, to be the player who breaks through, who shines…”

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Still deprived of Antoine Dupont, the Tricolors will at least be able to count on the return of their substitute captain, third row Grégory Alldritt – recovered from a thigh injury. “Our new generation benefits from the great people around us, explique Nicolas Depoortère. Whether in club or in the XV of France. We are always well integrated and as a result we have confidence in ourselves, and we can express ourselves well. »

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The 21-year-old center will have the difficult mission of replacing the powerful Jonathan Danty, suspended for the match after his exclusion against Italy. Showing discipline will also be one of the tasks of the Blues in Cardiff, they who have recently adopted the bad habit of stringing together boxes. “We shoot ourselves in the foot every time”summarized the Uini pillar Atonio following the duel with the Azzurri.

The French will also have to regain the efficiency that had been their strength in recent seasons, when they only scored five tries in 2024. To achieve this, they could be inspired to dig into the archives and remember previous confrontations against the Welsh: since the start of the “Galthié era”, they have always overcome the Leek XV (five victories).

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2024-03-10 11:00:17
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