Six Nations Tournament 2024: for France, a shock against Ireland as a remedy for the World Cup

All riders know: after a big fall, the best remedy is to get back in the saddle quickly

Six Nations Tournament 2024: for France, a shock against Ireland as a remedy for the World Cup

All riders know: after a big fall, the best remedy is to get back in the saddle quickly. Disappointed, on October 15, 2023, by their elimination down to the wire, at home, in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, by South Africa (28-29), the players of the XV of France want to resume their march in Before. And for this they are counting on the reception of Ireland, Friday February 2 in Marseille (9 p.m.), at the opening of the Six Nations Tournament.

Successful since taking office at the end of 2019, Fabien Galthié suffered his first setback against the Springboks. A “scar that will remain for life”, underlined the French coach, at the end of November, in Paris, when taking stock of the World Cup of his Blues, exciting at times, but ultimately aborted.

“We really weren’t prepared for such a big failure,” third row Grégory Alldritt confirmed before preparation to Rugbyrama. The players of the XV of France began their gathering at the end of January, trying to purge this painful memory together. Not to talk about it “would have been to turn a blind eye”, admitted William Servat, coach of the conquest (touchdowns and scrums) at the start of the week. If he believes that “digestion has taken place”, and that “the players have moved on”, the former international hooker professes that “this frustration must serve as preparation for the staff and the players to be ready for the 'Ireland'.

A clash between two injured animals

Now led by Grégory Alldritt, designated captain in the absence of Antoine Dupont for "Olympic reasons", the French troops "will be ready to take up the challenge" of the XV du Trèfle, affirmed the third line from La Rochelle on Thursday at a conference of press. Rather than approaching the match as a clash between two injured beasts – Ireland also being keen to forget their exit in the quarter-finals of the World Cup against the All Blacks – Alldritt ensures that he sees this match “like any other what a first match of the Tournament, like every France-Ireland”.

In their speech, the Blues express above all their desire to write a new chapter, after four years of only thinking about this World Cup at home. “The World Cup is over, it’s another competition,” insists William Servat. Other coaches have joined us, and there is a breath of fresh air, too, carried by new players. »

Without making a revolution, the XV of France has evolved on the margins. “We still kept an essential framework”, estimates Fabien Galthié, ensuring that we only changed “small details on the defense, the attack… to make the method even more efficient”.

Some of these changes were not necessarily desired. Failure at the World Cup in France obliges – coupled with a bad financial situation from the French Rugby Federation (FFR) – the French coach no longer has the same means for Act II of his mandate. Thus, after having agreed, in 2020, to “give away” 42 players per gathering “for the best interests of French rugby”, the Top 14 clubs forced the French staff to revise their claims downward. From now on, “only” 34 players are called up before international matches at the National Rugby Center (CNR) in Marcoussis (Essonne).

No more sun preparations

The CNR has also once again become the epicenter of the XV of France. No more preparations in the sun – Nice, Capbreton… – appreciated by Fabien Galthié. With the FFR having to save 10 million euros this year, according to its president, Florian Grill, the XV of France will have to tighten its belt.

On the pitch at the Stade-Vélodrome against Ireland, the cast will also be a little less rich. In addition to the absence of Antoine Dupont, captain and playing master of the Blues, who has decided to skip the 2024 Six Nations to focus on preparation for the sevens rugby tournament of the Paris Olympic Games, a litany of packages punctuated the approach to the tournament.

Several important players were forced to withdraw, notably Toulouse third row Anthony Jelonch, injured in the knee. Thursday, the powerful second row Romain Taofifénoa, ill, was replaced on the match sheet. Having become the incarnation of Fabien Galthié's “finishers” – the substitutes, responsible for finishing the game and the opponent – ​​the 33-year-old Lyonnais was replaced by Posolo Tuilagi, world champion with the U20s in 2023, an impressive physique (1.92 m and 145 kg). The Perpignan player should make his debut with the Blues in Marseille.

Friday, for the first time in its history, the XV of France will also play a match in the Six Nations Tournament at home far from the capital. Due to Olympic preparation, the Stade de France is not available at the start of the year. The Blues will therefore go on tour in France. After Marseille, Lille and Lyon will follow, to host Italy (February 25) then England (March 16); three cities where the XV of France won during the World Cup. An ideal setting to try to turn the page.