France will enter “Rugby World Cup mode” when they land in New Zealand to take part in the inaugural WXV 1 tournament later this month.
Les Bleues, who finished third at the delayed Rugby World Cup 2021 last November, will arrive back in the country keen to register three wins as World Rugby’s new annual global women’s 15s competition gets underway.
Co-coaches Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz named their 30-player squad for the tournament on Monday, with France scheduled to kick-off their campaign against hosts and reigning world champions, the Black Ferns on 21 October.
They will then face Australia and Canada on consecutive weekends, and it is clear they are treating WXV 1 2023 as a key staging post on the journey to RWC 2025 in England.
“Not all the players took part in the World Cup, [so] it's a different context. Now we're leaving with a lot of appetite and enthusiasm for this new competition,” Mignot told World Rugby.
“It's a dream opportunity. New Zealand is always a great place to go [and] we're going to meet some big nations, including the world champions, New Zealand.
“The squad is enthusiastic. Some of the girls have a lot of experience and now we're almost back up to scratch. It's also a new project for us with David.”
Ortiz added: “This competition is a great opportunity. It will give us three more matches a year at a very high level.
“We'll be playing teams who are ranked in the top four in the world. We'll be playing three matches in a row, living together for four weeks in three different cities, with all the requirements in terms of travel, logistics, adapting to a new context, preparation... we'll be in World Cup mode.
“For us, it's a rehearsal to start working on our squad in the context of a World Cup competition away from our [training] bases, unlike the Six Nations where we often return to our base, Marcoussis.
“We're going to be in long-term tour mode, and there are a whole bunch of little details that we'll need to fine-tune.”
Building the squad
Mignot and Ortiz have named a squad featuring a mix of youth and experience, with four uncapped players included in the group alongside a host of stars who appeared at RWC 2021.
Long-term injury absentees Célia Domain and Rose Bernadou are among those who will miss the tournament, but Mignot is confident they have selected a squad with the quality to do well over the next month.
“Our aim for this new competition is to bring back players who were injured and unable to take part in the Six Nations tournament, such as Madoussou Fall,” Mignot explained. “Then to continue to give experience to our team.
“But we're also going to shake things up a bit by inviting some of the young players we've been following for a while and who came through the academy and whom we called on this summer to help us prepare.
“The idea is to continue to build the group, because for us this is the first full year that we've taken the project in hand with David. We want to build the group.
“We've got girls who started out in sevens, but also girls who play sevens, like Nassira Konde, who we'd like to see playing with us. It's about having a mix of players to help our group grow and gain experience.”
Ortiz says that the four uncapped players, Léa Champon, Lilou Graciet, Ambre Mwayembe and Suliana Sivi have earned their places on the plane to New Zealand.
“They're all players we follow on a daily basis,” he said. “They come from the federal path and the French U18 and U20 youth teams.
“We had the opportunity to see Suliana Sivi play in February, and we've seen them at the finals, as well as Léa Champon, Lilou Graciet and Ambre Mwayembe. All of them are players we follow and who are now making their mark in Elite 1.
"Léa Champon, for example, is a regular starter with her club Grenoble. They've already been identified and monitored.
“The experience of the [Elite 1] tournament for some of them and the August training camp confirmed that it was time to integrate them into our group. Hence the opportunity of this competition to launch them."