Can France Meet Expectations?
The host nation France will be looking to bring the flair this World Cup. They come into the tournament third in the world rankings; however they are plenty of people’s favourites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy. Here is a deep dive into Les Bleus:
1. Antoine Dupont
The poster boy of the World Cup. It may be an obvious inclusion; but the hopes of the nation rest on Antoine Dupont’s shoulders. The Toulouse scrum half is the best player in the world, and possibly one of the greatest to ever play the sport; when he plays well his side usually win. He is the perfect scrum half, he can provide quick ball, put in accurate box kicks and he is capable of some brilliant snipes from the ruck. One big thing about him that often goes amiss though is his versatility. He is capable of playing both nine and ten and shifts across with ease. This ability to play both halfback positions helps with his reading of the game, which makes him even more of a threat. If France are to be crowned World Champions, he needs to have a big tournament.
2. Gregory Alldritt
Another one who is in the conversation for the best player in the world, Gregory Alldritt is a box office number eight. He has been an ever present in the French side over the last couple of years, and has been a standout for his club side too. He is dynamic ball carrier who consistently gets his team over the gain line and in defence he is just as solid. He is another huge player for France, and he will play a massive part in their hopes of glory.
3. Damian Penaud
Penaud is the main threat in an already stellar French attack. He has a real eye for the try line, and when presented with an opportunity he is a deadly finisher. Penaud is the complete winger, he is fantastic in the air and can also step a defender in a phone booth. He also comes into the tournament off the back of stellar performances in the Summer Nations Series, even topping his usual brilliance for Les Bleus. His scoring record for his nation speaks for itself, so don’t be surprised if he wins top try scorer this World Cup.
France vs New Zealand
The first game is the obvious option; but this one kicks off the whole tournament, and could also define both teams’ route to the final. It is vital the hosts get off to a good start, not only to provide momentum for the rest of the pool stage, but to put down a real marker on that side of the draw. The lop sided draw means the top five in the world rankings will all be on the same side, so a statement victory is crucial to send a message to the others. It could also give them a slightly easier draw in the quarter-finals against second in Pool B, which could easily be anyone from South Africa, Ireland or Scotland. I did say slightly, didn’t I?
One of the key measures for any side in the professional game is form. It is crucial to have momentum coming into a tournament, and that is exactly what France have. A tough loss in their first warm-up game against Scotland was the only blip, and whilst it’s still a loss, Les Bleus picked two U20 stars and played a proverbial ‘B’ team and only lost by four points against the team ranked fifth in the world. They then edged the return fixture with a stronger side, and then blew away a tough Fiji side and the Wallabies. They improved game on game, which is exactly what Head Coach Fabien Galthie would have wanted. They showed plenty of flair in attack, averaging a whopping 31.5 points across the four games this summer. They might need to tighten up their defence though, conceding an average of 21.5 points a game across the series; however if anyone is going to fix this area it’s French defence coach Shaun Edwards.
All in all, Les Bleus are one of the favourites for a reason. They are sat third in the world rankings, have some of the best players in the world and come into the tournament in great shape whilst still having room for improvement. If they overcome the tough draw, it could be one of the biggest achievements in the sports history.