The Future of Rugby: France U23
The fourth in our Future of Rugby series takes a look at France and the potential U23 team they could currently put together, with much of work done for us by the progressive thinking of the new Les Bleus coaching staff. Fabien Galthie and his coaches blooded plenty of France’s next generation of stars during the recent Guinness Six Nations, many of whom played integral parts in the nation’s back-to-back titles at the World Rugby U20 Championship. As it stands, the trajectory for the French senior side looks to be steeply in the ascendancy (for the purposes of this selection, only players aged 23 or under on May 1, 2020, were deemed eligible).
15. Gervais Cordin, Toulon
The livewire sees off the challenge of Geoffrey Cros and could provide stern competition to Thomas Ramos and Anthony Bouthier moving forward. His highlight reel’s counter-attacks and mazy runs are already beginning to stack up and if he can round out his game down in the Cote d’Azur, an international call could beckon in the future.
14. Damian Penaud, Clermont
The ex-outside centre has overcome his challenges and flourished in his new role on the wing, where he is already cementing himself as one of the most effective attacking operators in the international arena. He is quick, has good footwork and his skill with the ball in hand is not wanting. The defensive and aerial aspects of his game have also continued to improve with playing time.
13. Arthur Vincent, Montpellier
He is the first member of France’s back-to-back U20 champion sides included in this XV. Vincent has not looked out of his depth in senior club or international rugby, impressive performances for Montpellier opening the door to France. He made his international debut in the recent Six Nations, playing with an assuredness that should see him tough to displace over the coming years.
12. Pierre-Louis Barassi, Lyon
The midfielder’s showings in the Top 14 and Heineken Champions Cup last season were enough to win him a France cap in 2019 and he joins Vincent in this midfield, with the pair having previously played together at U20s level. It’s a mark of the success these young French centres are having that there is sparingly little talk of Penaud being moved back to the midfield, with Stade Francais’ Julien Delbouis also in the mix.
11. Gabriel N’Gandebe, Montpellier
While Penaud’s inclusion was a certainty, there is more competition for N’Gandebe with Lucas Tauzin, Vincent Pinto and the versatile Arthur Retiere all knocking on the door for a chance on the wing. A player built in the Cheslin Kolbe mould, N’Gandebe is another diminutive but incredibly elusive wing shining at the highest club level.
10. Romain Ntamack, Toulouse
For so long a position where France have struggled to bring through players and create genuine competition for the jersey. Ntamack is rivalled by Louis Carbonel and Mathieu Jalibert in what is as talented a trio of young fly-halves as any nation in the world can call upon. The Toulouse playmaker has proven he can cut it at club and international levels. He also has an ace up his sleeve – he is comfortable in the centre should France want to explore playing two playmakers at 10 and 12.
9. Antoine Dupont, Toulouse
If there is one position where France are stacked with talent more than any other nation, it is at scrum-half. Dupont was always going to be the call here, although there are honourable mentions for Baptiste Couilloud, Arthur Coville and Jules Gimbert, as well as the previously mentioned Retiere. As far as the hierarchy of international scrum-halves goes, though, Dupont may very well be at the top of the list despite being still just 23 years of age.
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1. Jean-Baptiste Gros, Toulon
The loosehead has two World Rugby U20 titles to his name and provided an anchor around which some of the more destructive forwards from that team were launched. He has now made the leap to senior international rugby and is swiftly repaying the faith that Galthie has shown while also growing in importance in the rebuild going on in Toulon.
2. Peato Mauvaka, Toulouse
He adds to the Toulouse contingent here, nudging ahead of club team-mate Guillaume Marchand as well as Pierre Bourgarit and Teddy Baubigny. France’s stock of hookers is doing very well, especially considering the talented duo of Julien Marchand and Camille Chat remain ahead of this quartet. The mantle laid aside by Guilhem Guirado has no shortage of suitors.
3. Demba Bamba, Lyon
There have been few more exciting age-grade talents than Bamba and although he has faced his fair share of challenges stepping up to the senior game, he is beginning to look ominously comfortable at the highest level. As he continues to learn the subtleties of scrummaging in the international arena and figures out how to use his physicality in the loose, France could be sitting on one of the very best tightheads in world rugby.
4. Killian Geraci, Lyon
Like Bamba, Geraci is another of the young French U20 stars that Lyon have snapped up and will be hoping to build the core of their squad around moving forward. The flame-haired 21-year-old was involved in France’s Six Nations training camp this season, although he ultimately didn’t make his debut in the tournament. If any further international rugby is played in 2020, don’t be surprised if he rectifies that.
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5. Guillaume Ducat, Bayonne
He has been a consistent and effective force for Bayonne over the past few seasons and holds off challenges – for now – of Toulon’s Florent Vanverberghe and Toulouse’s Florian Verhaeghe. Although Geraci may be the next man up for France in the engine room, it’s clear that the cupboard is far from empty for Galthie to pick from.
6. Dylan Cretin, Lyon
Lyon’s presence in this side grows with the inclusion of Cretin, who has transferred his excellent club form in the Top 14 and Champions Cup into consistency at the international level. France’s back row was in fine shape during the Six Nations and although Cretin got the least praise of that celebrated trio, he put in the graft and hard work that perfectly complemented what his two colleagues provided on the pitch. Don’t rule out Castres’ Anthony Jelonch or Bordeaux’s Alexandre Roumat either.
7. Cameron Woki, Bordeaux Begles
La Rochelle’s Matthias Haddad is rising swiftly and will challenge for a spot here in the years to come, although Woki is still largely an untapped talent at the highest level. The 21-year-old made his international debut during the Six Nations is yet another of France’s array of U20 championship winners that Galthie can call upon. The days of France’s back row feeling cumbersome and lacking in skill or conditioning are long gone.
8. Gregory Alldritt, La Rochelle
Toulouse’s Selevasio Tolofua is building nicely on his early promise and Racing 92’s Jordan Joseph could break out if he can match his technical game with his phenomenal physical ability. But for now, this spot could only go to Alldritt who lit up the Six Nations with his carrying, mobility and ability to read the game. Alongside Cretin, Woki and Charles Ollivon, Alldritt cemented Les Bleus as the standout loose forward group in the competition.
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