France’s improvement over the last four years has been impressive to say the least. After eight straight years of finishing third or lower, including an infamous wooden spoon in 2013, France have finished at least runners-up in every Guinness Men’s Six Nations campaign this decade, losing just four out of 20 Championship games since appointing Fabien Galthié as head coach (W16).

Gone are the days when correctly predicting how well France would play was about as likely as picking the winning EuroMillions numbers. Les Bleus have now firmly established their place among the elite of international rugby, only falling short in their home World Cup by a single point against eventual champions South Africa in what was one of rugby’s most thrilling spectacles. Had Cheslin Kolbe not charged down Thomas Ramos’ conversion attempt in Saint-Denis, France could well have been coming into this year’s Six Nations as world champions.

Alas, their quarter-final exit was still viewed as a massive disappointment given the fine form they’d shown over the last several years and they’ll be aiming to right some wrongs by mounting another title challenge this spring. One of the favourites, the stats show it’ll take something special to stop them.

Playing Style

Much like their opening-night opponents Ireland, France tend to attack and draw numbers into the middle channels before distributing the ball to their superstars out wide. France moved the ball less than two metres horizontally from the previous ruck on 15% of their attacking phases in last year’s Guinness Six Nations, the highest such rate of any team, while just 23% of their phases saw the ball progress beyond the first receiver, the lowest rate in 2023.

France’s ability to still make marginal gains when crowding the midfield is what sets them apart, though. They crossed the gainline from a greater percentage of their carries than any other team last year (55%) and were the only nation to gain an average of 4+ metres for every carry they made (4.4).

France also employ a strong kicking game; only England (170) made more open-play kicks than Les Bleus last year, while only Wales (14%) retained possession from a greater share of those kicks than Galthié’s men (10%).

Strengths and Weaknesses

As mentioned above, one of France’s main strengths is their ability to squeeze the most out of every carry. In addition to recording the Championship’s highest gainline success rate in 2023, Les Bleus also beat the most opposition defenders of any side (144) despite making the fewest carries (558).

France’s lineout has been functioning like a well-oiled machine, with a 93% success rate off their own throws the second best of any team in last year’s World Cup (New Zealand – 96%), and with 14 of their 30 total tries in the autumn having originated from lineouts, they will again seek to use their aerial dominance as a base for an attacking platform.

six_nations_2023_22_entries 2

France were the only team to average 3+ points scored per attacking 22 entry in last year’s Championship (3.1), thanks in part to the finishing ability of Damian Penaud and the kicking ability of Ramos. However, they struggled to defend their own try line as fervently, conceding one more point per defensive 22 entry (2.2) than their opening opponents Ireland (1.2). The main factor for this was their failure to force turnovers; France’s 21 turnovers won were the fewest of any team in 2023 and contributed to their 45.4% average possession rate, also the Championship’s lowest last year.

Star Players

Antoine Dupont may be out of this year’s Six Nations to chase Olympic glory, but such is the talent within the French ranks that they may not miss him quite as much as other nations might. Maxime Lucu has been the next man up in the No. 9 jersey in recent times and playing with a star-studded Bordeaux backline that contains several members of Les Bleus’ current first-choice XV will surely help. Don’t count out Nolann Le Garrec though, who has been one of the most dangerous scrum-halves in Europe this season – only two players have assisted more tries than him in the TOP 14 this campaign (6, Joe Simmonds and Sebastien Bezy both 8), while only one has scored more tries than him (6) – Penaud (7).

Penaud has been one of the top wingers in the world for a few years now, but 2023 saw him hit new heights. He was the top try scorer in the Six Nations (5) and ended the calendar year with 14 tries for France – three more than the next best player out of the 20 nations who qualified for the Rugby World Cup (Aka Tabutsadze – 11).

Penaud has grabbed the headlines, but like all try-scoring wingers, he often benefits from the big men doing the heavy lifting up front. Peato Mauvaka is one such player who made a real mark at the tail end of 2023. Going into the World Cup he was behind club teammate Julien Marchand in the France pecking order, but an unfortunate injury to the latter saw Mauvaka take the starting jersey and he didn’t look back. The hooker scored three tries and assisted a further two at the Rugby World Cup, with his average of one try involvement every 54 minutes the best of any forward to play 160+ minutes. He also recorded the best gainline success of any player to make 30+ carries at the tournament (76%) as well as the best dominant carry rate of any forward (62%).

RWC 2023 Gainline Success

France Six Nations 2024 Fixtures:

2 February: France v Ireland – Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

10 February: Scotland v France – Scottish Gas Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh

25 February: France v Italy – Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille

10 March: Wales v France – Principality Stadium, Cardiff

16 March: France v England – Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

France Six Nations Squad (as of 30 January):


Esteban Abadie (Toulon, uncapped)
Dorian Aldegheri (Toulouse, 16 caps)
Grégory Alldritt (La Rochelle, 45 caps) (Captain)
Uini Atonio (La Rochelle, 57 caps)
Cyril Baille (Toulouse, 47 caps)
Gaëtan Barlot (Castres Olympique, 7 caps)
Paul Boudehent (La Rochelle, 6 caps)
François Cros (Toulouse, 27 caps)
Paul Gabrillagues (Stade Français, 16 caps)
Matthias Halagahu (Toulon, uncapped)
Anthony Jelonch (Toulouse, 29 caps)
Thomas Laclayat (Racing 92, 1 cap)
Julien Marchand (Toulouse, 32 caps)
Peato Mauvaka (Toulouse, 29 caps)
Emmanuel Meafou (Toulouse, uncapped)
Charles Ollivon (Toulon, 39 caps)
Romain Taofifenua (Lyon, 49 caps)
Sébastien Taofifenua (Lyon, 3 caps)
Reda Wardi (La Rochelle, 14 caps)
Cameron Woki (Racing 92, 27 caps)


Louis Bielle-Biarrey (Bordeaux-Bègles, 7 caps)
Jonathan Danty (La Rochelle, 26 caps)
Nicolas Depoortère (Bordeaux-Bègles, uncapped)
Gaël Fickou (Racing 92, 85 caps)
Emilien Gailleton (Section Paloise, 1 cap)
Antoine Gibert (Racing 92, uncapped)
Matthieu Jalibert (Bordeaux-Bègles, 30 caps)
Melvyn Jaminet (Toulon, 19 caps)
Nolann Le Garrec (Racing 92, uncapped)
Matthis Lebel (Toulouse, 5 caps)
Maxime Lucu (Bordeaux-Bègles, 18 caps)
Yoram Moefana (Bordeaux-Bègles, 23 caps)
Damian Penaud (Bordeaux-Bègles, 48 caps)
Thomas Ramos (Toulouse, 31 caps)

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