Six tests in seven weeks – twice the usual amount played during this period on the rugby calendar – is what awaits France’s men’s squad at the restart of international rugby. The first installment of the 2020 Six Nations Championship was very positive for Les Bleus, who welcomed their new coach Fabien Galthié following the departure of Jacques Brunel.
Galthié’s side have won three of their four tests so far in the Championship. Their sole loss came against Scotland at Murrayfield, where Les Bleus haven’t recorded a win since 2014. Indiscipline in various parts of the game has cost France in the past, but Les Bleus, now captained by Charles Ollivon, are starting to show strong signs of a resurgence; sitting in joint first place in the table with one matchday remaining, the side are very much in the race to win the 2020 Championship.
Their next and final match of the 2020 Six Nations, against Ireland (4th on the table with 9 points) on 31 October, will be decisive. Before then, a warm-up match against Wales, a team France beat 27-23 in round three of the Championship, on 24 October. The match will mark the first time the team takes to the field in seven months.
For Fabien Galthié and team manager Raphaël Ibanez, the fixture against Wales will be an opportunity to test the new recruits selected for the close of the Six Nations and the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup. Seven players who have not yet been selected have been integrated into a larger group for this restart in early October. Winger Arthur Retière (La Rochelle), the “serial marker” of France’s recent Under 20 (2016 and 2017 classes) sides, 2014 Summer Youth Olympics gold medalist, and scorer of 15 tries in 20 matches on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in 2016, hopes to gain his first cap. Retière will be hoping to take advantage of an injury to the absent Damian Penaud, whose return is not expected before the end of November.
Four other new faces within the France squad are also graduates from the World Rugby Under 20 Championship: Racing 92’s George-Henri Colombe Reazel (22), Lyon second-row Killian Geraci (21), Toulouse number eight Selevasio Tolofua (23), and the versatile forward Baptiste Pesenti (23). Toulon winger Gabin Villière (24), who has also been seen on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, is also on the list, as is Racing centre Olivier Klemenczak (24).
All have been "on the radar for a while," said Fabien Galthié. In total, the France men’s squad has an average age of 24.5 years and 13 test appearances.
Marking a return to superpower status
Following the 2020 Six Nations Championship, players will turn to the all-new Autumn Nations Cup, where France will face Fiji (15 November), Scotland (22 November) and Italy (28 November). The tournament’s final round is scheduled for the weekend of December 5-6.
Les Bleus met on the training grounds of Marcoussis on 19 October with the objective of "becoming a major rugby nation again". Success against the opponents that lie before them in this busy schedule will add further momentum to this journey.
A double crunch to prepare for RWC 2021
The upcoming international window is less hectic for France’s women's side, but that doesn’t mean the stakes are any lower: the end of France’s 2020 Women’s Six Nations campaign will be closely followed by two highly-anticipated Le Crunch fixtures against England.
France didn’t get the best start to the 2020 Championship. They were setback in round one by a 19-13 loss to England, with Emily Scarratt’s try on the hour mark sealing victory for the visitors. Annick Hayraud’s Les Bleues then found their form to beat Italy (45-10) and Wales (50-0).
Two more matches remain in the 2020 Women's Six Nations Championship for France: Scotland (25 October) and Ireland (1 November). Currently lying in second, eight points behind Grand Slam hopefuls England, France will not be expecting to win the Championship this year. But they will do everything to maintain second place.
And it is against England that the French women intend to end their international window. Two additional tests against the Red Roses have been organised: on 14 November in Grenoble – where France were victorious against England in March 2018 in front of a record 17,740-spectator crowd and also where they beat the Black Ferns in November of the same year – and on 21 November at Twickenham. Beyond victory, the main objective in these two additional fixtures is gaining playing time and momentum with less than a year before Rugby World Cup 2021 kicks off in New Zealand.
"We look forward,” said Hayraud. “We couldn't play this summer; we weren't able to go to New Zealand. So, we can't wait to finally play a test-match."