It’s 6 Nations time again, which means we get to dust off the best in rugby cliches, including the perennial favourite – which France will turn up?
Not so long ago the question would have been valid. Depending on their mood, France were either brilliant – with brutal forward play and swashbuckling backs working in harmony, or sullen and moody; more interested in niggle and violence than winning the game in front of them.
The days of Blanco, the Begles front row, Champ, Ondarts and a host of other great names from the 70s and 80s are long gone. Élan has been replaced with power and pragmatism. We no longer need to ask which France will turn up – it will probably be a very average one.
France’s shocking 6 Nations record
From 2011 through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, France were coached by their former player Phillipe Saint-Andre, who in his playing career was a dashing, pacey wing in the style of some of the great names of earlier decades.
He then went on to coach a number of top club teams, but the success of earlier coaching stints was not replicated by the national team under his control. In the 4 seasons he was coach of the French national team they finished in the following positions in the 6 Nations.
2012 – 4th
2013 – 6th
2014 – 4th
2015 – 4th
After the 2015 World Cup, the legendary Toulouse coach Guy Noves took over the reigns. Noves had undoubtedly been a top class coach for a number of years but many thought his best days were behind him; the French job coming about 7/8 years too late.
Noves was in the seat for the 2016 6 Nations where France came a lowly, but now predictable 5th, with home wins over Italy (by 2 points) and Ireland (by 1 point) – both games could have gone the other way.
In the final game of the tournament at home against a Grand Slam chasing England, France were given credit for their approach to the game and style of play, and yet they were defeated by 10 points in their own back yard.
The feint praise was a testament to how far French rugby had fallen.
The 2016 Autumn internationals did show some signs of promise, with fairly close games against the southern hemisphere giants and an indication that the bish-bash style under Saint-Andre was being ditched for a more expansive approach.
How bad is this French team?
A few facts.
The final standings in the last 5 6 Nations makes grim reading for French supporters – 5th, 4th, 4th, 6th and 4th.
France has won the 6 Nations title just once in the last 9 seasons, which is a huge underachievement for a nation with the player base, resources and history of France.
Results against individual nations also make grim reading; France has not beaten Wales for 5 games, including back to back defeats in Paris. They have only one win against Ireland in the last 6 games and only 4 victories in the last 13 against their old foe England.
There are a number of reasons for the decline of the French national team, which are beyond the scope of this article, but this is arguably the worst period for the French national team since the early 1950s.
The old cliche doesn’t work anymore – we do know which French team will turn up. A poor one.
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