When France begin their WXV 1 campaign against the Black Ferns in Wellington next week, they will walk onto the pitch behind a new captain.

Co-coaches Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz have put their faith in second-row Manaé Feleu to follow in the footsteps of Gaëlle Hermet and Audrey Forlani and lead Les Bleues in New Zealand.

Although Feleu made her international debut in November 2020, the decision caps a fairly remarkable rise in seniority for a player who has started only four of her nine tests to date.

Three of those starts came during the TikTok Women’s Six Nations 2023, when Feleu emerged as the preferred partner of Forlani in France’s engine room.

“I'm very proud and honoured,” the 23-year-old told World Rugby about being asked to captain Les Bleues.

“I've said to myself that I shouldn't change who I am and who I've always been when I was with the France squad. Now, I'm going to try to give the best of myself to honour this captaincy."

Feleu believes a captain should be “someone who provides a bit of a link in the group, who brings people together and who is also capable, in critical moments, of bringing the group together”.

She admits she has not yet made a big speech in front of her team-mates but as she attempts to provide that link within the squad, she has been able to call on advice and support from Forlani, Hermet and Mignot.

“They were very kind to me, telling me that if I needed help, they'd be there to support me. I really appreciate them saying that. I had no doubt that they would be there for me and support me in the role," Feleu said.

"It's very valuable [working with Mignot] because I know she has a lot of experience in that role. She was a captain who had a big impact on the French national team.

“It hasn't changed the way I behave in the group. [Mignot] came to tell me that she'd be there if I needed her and that she was very happy for me. We haven't had much time to talk about it yet.”

Feleu’s journey to the France squad, and the captaincy, is unlike any of her team-mates at WXV 1.

Although born in Mâcon, she grew up in Wallis and Futuna, a French-controlled island located between Fiji and Samoa, after her family relocated there when she was young.

Feleu then attended boarding school in New Zealand for three years before returning to mainland France and embarking on her impressive rugby career with FC Grenoble Amazones.

She has since been joined in Grenoble by her sister Téani, a 2022 Youth Unstoppable, but WXV 1 provides an opportunity – as Rugby World Cup 2021 did last year – for more members of her family to watch her play.

“It’s easier to come to New Zealand than to France,” Feleu admitted.

Younger sister Téani has shown a great amount of promise herself, having been called up to an expanded France squad that took part in the Dubai Invitational Sevens in 2021.

"She was very happy for me, as were all my relatives, and proud that they had thought of me for the captaincy," Manaé said.

On the potential prospect of captaining her sister, she added: "I think she would have mostly teased me because our relationship is a bit like that.”

For now, the older Feleu sister is focused on leading Les Bleues to success in Wellington, Dunedin and Auckland.

Following their encounter with the Black Ferns in Wellington, France take on Australia at Forsyth Barr Stadium before a replay of the RWC 2021 bronze final against Canada at Go Media Mount Smart Stadium.

"It's a competition that will allow us to play nations that we don't play very often, only every four years during the World Cups,” Feleu said.

“We're also going to meet the reigning world champions. It's a competition that will allow us to play against leading nations at international level. That can only help us continue to develop as a group."