France on the upswing ahead of Wales Six Nations visit to Paris

Holders France host Wales in the Six Nations finals on Saturday, with the two sides having taken very different paths since Rugby World Cup 2019.

In less than four years, ex-Test captain Fabien Galthie transformed an underperforming Les Bleus by guiding them to last year’s Six Nations Grand Slam and they have lost just once since July 2021, last month to world no .

Her impressive form and clinical performances were highlighted with a record 53-10 in Twickenham over England last weekend.

“We really enjoyed the game in England,” Galthie said this week.

“We won’t hide it, but we saw that we have a lot to improve.

“The good thing about that game was the intensity with which we played with open doors and showed us that we can play better,” he added.

Wales may have won the 2021 Six Nations under then-new coach Wayne Pivac, but the New Zealander was sacked last December and replaced by Warren Gatland after resounding defeats to Italy and Georgia.

Pivac’s compatriot Gatland returned after leading the national team for more than a decade and finishing fourth at the World Cup in Japan.

The Gatland side have won just once this season, last weekend in Italy before the former British and Irish Lions head coach reignites a flame with former defense coach Shaun Edwards.

Edwards left Wales for Paris after the World Cup and has instilled a steely discipline in the French off-ball game.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Gatland said.

“I’m sure he’ll be pretty pumped this weekend,” he added.

– ‘Development lag’ –

Gatland’s matchday squad is made up of a variety of players aged 30+, including captain Ken Owens, Alun Wyn Jones, goal veteran and Dan Biggar.

Number 8 Taulupe Faletau turned 32 in November and will be playing his 100th cap in the French capital.

“When I look at the roster and go through it there are up to eight players who are possibly playing their last Six Nations game,” Gatland said.

“We have to think about building for the World Cup this year, but also 2027 (World Cup).

“The ideal scenario is that you want to go to a World Cup with a squad in their mid to late 20s with 40 or 50 caps.

“The message to those who might be playing their last Six Nations game is to enjoy the occasion and the moment,” he added.

Saturday’s hosts are in a different situation as Galthie’s squad averages 26 years and has 26 caps, a decade and 10 Tests less than the former Scrum-half hoped after taking over in December 2019.

“We’re lagging behind compared to what we were hoping for four years later,” said Galthie.

“Despite our desire and vision to build collective experience, we lost a few players on the road, we also had injuries.

“We’re learning, but it’s slower than predicted,” he added.

The game marked Les Bleus’ last home game before welcoming New Zealand on 8 September in the opening game of the World Cup.

They can retain the league with a bonus point win and hope Ireland lose to England by more than seven points later in the day.

“Honestly, we don’t look at anything other than this competition,” said Galthie.

“We can still win the Six Nations. We know what we have to do.

“Then we will move on to something else on Sunday,” he added.


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