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French Rugby Column February 1 || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 2 min read

The cream of French rugby talent met up at their Marcoussis training
centre last Friday knowing that the time to put up or shut up is very
much now. Head Coach Marc Lievremont goes into his third Six
Nations at the helm without any trophies to show for his endeavours
and while the 30 players called up for the first get-together of this
campaign have oodles of rugby talent between them, it still remains to
be seen whether they can mould as a team and deliver when they
have to.

Skipper Thierry Dusautoir, who put in a typically industrious
performance when I watched his club side Toulouse put neighbours
Albi to the sword with very little trouble last Thursday, reckons that his
team needs to work on its mental toughness above all. “We always
need to be hungry for more, not to be satisfied with where we are, to
be constantly looking for the victory. We’re still missing that attitude,”
he admitted at the start of the week. Was there ever a time when that
lack of rigour wasn’t part of the French rugby make-up, though?

I don’t think there’s ever been a season gone by without me writing a
piece that’s praised France’s pool of natural talent, while voicing a
concern about whether the French had the necessary mental
toughness to turn up for each and every match, to dig themselves out
of holes and notch up wins through sheer force of will and a refusal to
be beaten. The 2010 Six Nations tournament throws up the exact
same questions. Browsing through the list of Lievremont’s 30 names –
which was reduced to 23 this Wednesday for France’s opening game
against Scotland on Sunday – there’s no doubt that this is a hugely
talented group of players. What international coach wouldn’t want to
be able to call on the likes of Bastareaud, Jauzion, Clerc, Poitrenaud
etc? Yet whether the whole turns out to be less than the sum of the
parts remains to be seen.

In their favour right now, though, is the fact that the French seem to
have toughened up in the front row. 18 months ago ‘Les Bleus’ were
creaky up front, an area where the macho French traditionally prided
themselves on their ability to go head to head and toe to toe with
allcomers. But with William Servat in great form at hooker, Thomas
Domingo emerging as an international class prop, the evergreen
Nicolas Mas still doing the business and Luc Ducalcon having a great
season with Castres Lievremont can go into the tournament believing
that at the very least his boys won’t be easily bullied.

Can France win this year’s Six Nations? Well of course they can. But
we’ve said that about pretty much every French international side of
the last 20 years. Whether they have the mental toughness to deliver
consistently over five hard games is the big issue. In an England
France match where both teams had equal talent I’d always put my
money on the English. Why? Because the English have traditionally
shown more resolve and more heart in the heat of sporting battle. It
could be, however, that the influx of foreign talent into the French
domestic leagues has finally instilled more rigour in the country’s
domestic players. If that proves to be the case, then Lievremont’s
boys will have a realistic chance of finishing the 2010 Six Nations as
top dogs.