France come into the Guinness Six Nations looking to become the first side to record back-to-back Grand Slam titles.
Les Bleus will arrive in Rome on Sunday in buoyant mood and good form after their unbeaten Autumn International series, overcoming tough tests against Australia, South Africa, and Japan in the process.
However, while Fabien Galthie has named a 42-strong squad for these upcoming championships, he’s been hindered by several injuries, with latest casualty Cameron Woki out with a broken hand.
The forward joins Jonathan Danty, Teddy Thomas, Jean-Baptiste Gros and hookers Peato Mauvaka and Pierre Bourgarit on the treatment table.
Galthie has, however, got back row Francois Cros and front row Paul Willemse back after their autumn absences.
Star man Antoine Dupont will captain the side at scrum-half, with either Matthieu Jalibert or Romain Ntamack ably supporting him at 10.
The World Cup hosts ended 2022 as the only men’s Tier 1 nation with a 100% win rate, going unbeaten in their last 10 matches.
The defending Six Nations champions’ fixture list starts well with an Italian Job, but intensifies massively as they visit the Aviva Stadium, before a crunch Twickenham test in the penultimate game against Steve Borthwick’s potentially-rejuvenated England.
They’ll end their campaign welcoming Wales to the Stade de France, where they’ll be hoping Dupont holds aloft their sixth Six Nations trophy.
How do you defend against a scrum half with the skillset of Aaron Smith and a physical presence like Joost van der Westhuizen? You struggle.
Last year’s player of the tournament will captain his side in their Grand Slam title defence, leading from the front with his near-flawless game.
The former World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year has all the necessary skills of a world-class scrum-half but when you add in his incredible top-end speed and an uncanny ability to break tackles, you understand how he led his club Toulouse to two Top-14 titles and a European Champions Cup.
The 26-year-old is a proven match-winner and if he can link up well with club team-mate Romain Ntamack in the midfield again, Les Bleus will be difficult to stop.
Charles Ollivon and Grégory Alldritt:
The French back-row has become one of World rugby’s scariest packages, led by Ollivon and Alldritt.
Ollivon, 29, is a key leader in the pack with his 6ft 6 115kg frame making his physical presence unmissable.
He will lead by example on the pitch by flying into rucks constantly, commanding the lineout and threatening the try-line.
Alldritt will be equally relentless at the breakdown, having won the most jackal turnovers at last year’s tournament with six.
Although smaller in stature, he is equally as willing to carry and the duo’s never-ending work-rate will put France in good stead to dominate.
The electric winger has been key to Fabien Galthie’s revitalised France team and has already entered the top-ten all time try scorers for Les Bleus with 21 from 37 caps.
His world class finishing is undeniable but his ability to produce it when his team need it most is what sets him apart, seen best in their Autumn Internationals fixture against Australia.
The 26-year-old is the bookies favourite for top try scorer and with the talent inside him through Dupont, Ntamack and Gael Fickou, Penaud will be well-provided on his way to the try line.
Sun 5 February, Italy v France – Stadio Olimpico, 3pm
Sat 11 February, Ireland v France – Aviva Stadium, 2.15pm
Sun 26 February, France v Scotland – Stade de France, 3pm
Sat 12 March, England v France – Twickenham, 4.45pm
Sat 18 March, France v Wales – Stade de France, 2.45pm
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