An Unbeaten 2022
France ended 2022 as the only men’s Tier 1 nation to record a 100% win rate, winning each of their 10 fixtures. In doing so, they made history. It was the first time that Les Bleus had achieved this feat in a year in which they’d played more than twice.
France are the current favourites to lift the Rugby World Cup this year having won their last 13 international matches – their best-ever run in Test rugby. In fact, only once before have they managed to win more than eight consecutive games and that was back in the 1930s when they won 10 on the bounce between 1931 and 1937.
As well as winning the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2022, Fabien Galthié’s men also beat Japan (three times), Australia and World Champions, South Africa. Their record run of 13 victories includes wins against all the other Tier 1 sides, including New Zealand, in a famous 40-25 home win against the All Blacks.
Repeating their Six Nations Grand Slam will be incredibly difficult with trips to the Aviva Stadium and Twickenham coming up in 2023. In fact, Les Bleus were the last team to record back-to-back slams in the Championship, doing so back in the Five Nations in 1997-98.
Generally, France attack the openside of the pitch, doing so on 88% of phases, which was close to the average for Tier 1 nations in 2022. However, looking at how wide they play from each ruck may surprise you. Usually a team known for throwing the ball around and attacking wide, the current Les Blues outfit keep the ball tight to the breakdown more often than any other side. In 2022, France attacked within two metres of the previous ruck on 17% of phases and within 10 metres 58% of the time, the highest rate of any Tier 1 nation in world rugby.
Our playmaker data also tells a similar story. France were the only Tier 1 nation in 2022 to move the ball wider than first receiver less than 20% of the time, doing so on just 15% of phases. Les Bleus certainly stuck to the old rugby cliché of earning the right to go wide…
France have also developed their kicking game and in 2022 they kicked more often than any other nation, ensuring they played in the right areas of the pitch. France recorded the best 22 exit success rate of any nation last year (96%) and of their successful 22 exits, 65% saw France kick the ball out of their 22, rather than carry, also the highest rate of any nation.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Simply put, France have very few weaknesses. In attack, they rank in the top four for both defenders beaten and line breaks, while they have also proven to be one of the best offloading sides around. Not only have they averaged the second most offloads per game of any Tier 1 nation (behind Japan, 10), they’ve managed it while maintaining the third-best offload success rate.
Defensively, France have improved dramatically under Shaun Edwards. They won the most turnovers of any nation in 2022, missed the fewest tackles, and recorded the third-best tackle success rate. Add all that to their solid set-piece, accurate breakdown work and excellent disciplinary record and France really do have the full package.
Despite France not moving the ball wide as frequently as other nations in 2022, it didn’t stop their wingers from getting their hands on the ball and exploiting any space on offer. Damian Penaud made the most line breaks of any Frenchman last year while he scored the most tries (eight) and had the best tackle evasion rate (79%) of any Tier 1 rugby union player in 2022.
Having players like Penaud on the wing, along with the likes of fly-half Romain Ntamack and scrum-half Antoine Dupont identifying spaces to exploit means that France don’t have to go wide often. But when they do, they do it with devastating effect.
They have real leaders in the pack too. Gregory Alldritt, typically the No. 8 in France’s back row, was one of the standout players in last year’s Guinness Six Nations. He was hugely influential in both attack – making the most carries (65) of any player – and in defence, by hitting the most defensive rucks (59) and winning the most jackal turnovers (six).
It will take a huge effort to stop the French this year and with a home Rugby Union World Cup on the horizon, there could be even greater things to come for Les Bleus in 2023, which could kick-off by bringing another Six Nations title back to Paris.
France’s Six Nations 2023 Fixtures:
5 February: Italy v France – Stadio Olimpico, Rome
11 February: Ireland v France – Aviva Stadium, Dublin
26 February: France v Scotland – Stade de France, Paris
11 March: England v France – Twickenham Stadium, London
18 March: France v Wales – Stade de France, Paris
France Six Nations 2023 Squad (as of 19 Jan):
Forwards: Gregory Alldritt, Uini Atonio, Cyril Baille, Gaetan Barlot, Teddy Baubigny, Alexandre Becognee, Paul Boudehent, Yacouba Camara, Bastien Chalureau, Dylan Cretin, Francois Cros, Sipili Falatea, Thibaud Flament, Mohamed Haouas, Anthony Jelonch, Thomas Jolmes, Thomas Lavault, Sekou Macalou, Julien Marchand, Charles Ollivon, Dany Priso, Romain Taofifenua, Reda Wardi, Paul Willemse.
Backs: Pierre-Louis Barassi, Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Romain Buros, Leo Coly, Julien Delbouis, Ethan Dumortier, Antoine Dupont (capt), Gael Fickou, Emilien Gailleton, Antoine Hastoy, Matthieu Jalibert, Melvyn Jaminet, Nolann Le Garrec, Matthis Lebel, Yoram Moefana, Romain Ntamack, Damian Penaud, Thomas Ramos.
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