James Harrington takes a look at five promising young French stars plying their trade in the Top 14 who everyone should keep a close eye on this season.
1. BAPTISTE SERIN
Ian Madigan, who has had enough of playing second fiddle at first-five to Jonny Sexton in the Ireland and Leinster setup, has joined Bordeaux, and everyone who knows anything about Northern Hemisphere rugby has been saying what a great signing that is. But don’t underestimate the importance of the halfback who will be fizzing out the passes in his direction.
Bordeaux have two young halfbacks – the lightning fast Yann Lesgourgues who’s 25, and 22-year-old Baptiste Serin. The latter made an impressive debut for France on their summer tour of Argentina – and he’s only going to get better.
2. ANTOINE DUPONT
Castres’ Olympique won’t be able to keep their big little secret – 19-year-old halfback Antoine Dupont – a secret much longer. He’s quick, strong, and brave; flicks out speedy, accurate passes, and has the rugby brain of a player 10 years his senior.
He’s still on a junior contract at the club (called, with wonderful French flair, an espoir – which translates as hopeful) – but he’s been named in the new national elite development squad as Les Bleus finally try to dig their way out of the hole that ex-coaches Marc Lievremont and Philippe Saint-Andre put them in.
Castres already know how good he is. He stood in at first-five last season against Oyonnax during a bit of an injury crisis at the club, and pulled them apart. And he stepped up to the plate again on the opening day of this season after starting halfback Rory Kockott was sent off for stamping. Watch out for him.
3. SEKOU MACALOU
Forget that great red rose hope, Maro Itoje. Flankers don’t come with much more promise than Sekou Macalou. He was the star of the U20 World Cup in France two years ago until injury forced him off the pitch 10 minutes into the semi-final against New Zealand.
He joined Stade Francais from Massy last season, where he has been learning the ropes from a certain Sergio Parisse.
And he can do this:
4. FABIEN SANCONNIE
Remember Olivier Magne? Sanconnie is Magne’s protege. He made his debut for perennial Top 14 strugglers Brive two seasons ago in the Challenge Cup and since then the big Magne, who coaches the under-20s, has taken the youngster under his wing. Which is good news for France and bad news for almost everyone else.
Sanconnie would probably have his first full international cap by now – but for a ferocious tackle by Grenoble’s Nigel Hunt in March that left him with a broken elbow. Still, it’s just a matter of time.
5. JUDICAEL CANCORIET
Clermont coach Franck Azema – who knows a thing or two about rugby, except how to win silverware – believes that the 20-year-old Cancoriet is “the most promising flanker in French rugby.” And given that Stade’s Macalou is likely to put Maro Itoje in the shade in the next couple of years, you have to wonder how good this guy is.
Cancoriet is in the middle of a three-season deal at Clermont, so expect to see plenty of him in the yellow and blue. And let your mind boggle at the idea of a French backrow of Cancoriet, Sanconnie and Macalou.
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