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The Autumn Internationals Preview: France

By James Harrington
Francois Trinh-Duc

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France Schedule
vs Samoa – Sunday November 13, 12:30am HKT
vs Australia – Sunday November 20, 4:00am HKT
vs New Zealand – Sunday November 27, 4:00am HKT

After a disappointing fifth-place finish in this year’s Six Nations France are looking to make strides this Autumn under (relatively) new coach Guy Novès. Can he deliver on his promise to restore the long-lost ‘French flair’ to the national side?

What to look out for
Flair, French flair. During the successful-yet-dull Bernard Laporte years it all but shriveled up and died, and his thud-grunt-graft model was repeated, with rapidly diminishing success, by Marc Lievremont and Philippe Saint-Andre. Guy Novès record is, in the right light and sold by a good-natured liar, fairly encouraging.

Strengths
As the All Blacks in particular are well aware, on their day the French can beat anyone. And that pack looks pretty formidable.

Weaknesses
Those aforementioned victories are rapidly disappearing in the rear-view mirror. Les Bleus haven’t been that good for years.

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Coaching situation
When he took over, Novès promised to restore the French national side to its former glory, but admitted even he had no magic wand to create instant improvement. And it showed in the 2016 Six Nations. Novès has since been busy banging administrative heads behind the scenes to get something approaching a competitive international set-up – and he got it. Now he needs to start delivering.

Player to watch
Arthur Iturria. Many will focus on winger Virimi Vakatawa as he continues to make the step up from sevens to 15s while cunningly avoiding playing any competitive 15s rugby between internationals. Others will wax lyrical over Louis Picamoles, who’s clearly enjoying life in Northampton. But Clermont lock Iturria, who’s only in the squad as a late call-up after club team-mate Paul Jedrasiak picked up a knock, is some talent in an area where France have struggled for years, and could – given the chance – ensure his name is first on the teamsheet for years to come. In permanent marker.

Best chance of an upset
Samoa first up in Toulouse could spring a surprise if France aren’t careful.

Prediction
They’ll run away with it in the last 20 against Samoa in Toulouse and edge a nervy encounter against Australia in Paris. Their third test against New Zealand will be a high-scoring encounter.

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