Six Nations team preview — France: More misery or the start of a revival under Guy Noves?

Ahead of the 2016 Six Nations, Geoffrey Riddle previews France's chances as the enigmatic team looks to put recent miseries in the past and start afresh under new coach Guy Noves.

Wesley Fofana remains an integral part of the France team. Miguel Medina / AFP
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The Grand Slams are in the distant past. The glory days when France played with verve and panache, words of French origin, are long gone. France last cut through all five rivals in the tournament in 2010. They were the runners-up a year later before what looks to be a terminal decline set in. France have finished no better than fourth since, and were bottom of the pile in 2013.

The last time the French played a Six Nations game, they were thrashed 55-35 by England. They signed off at the World Cup with a record defeat to the All Blacks and if a new coach had not been called for, the outlook would look very bleak.

In Guy Noves the French Rugby Union have appointed one of their greatest coaches. Noves built one of the great rugby empires in the city of Toulouse, amassing a record four European Cups and ten titles. The fall of Toulouse in France’s Top 14, however, mirrors the problems faced by the national team and Noves will have to be at his most refreshing if his side are to get out of the malaise that affects them.

Noves has appointed Guilhem Guirado as his captain and rallying focal point, and the Toulon hooker looks to be made of the right stuff. Both men have a huge amount of work to get through if France are to prevail.

PLAYER TO WATCH — JONATHAN DANTY

Gael Fickou and Wesley Fofana are still in the France squad and operate at a high level in the centres, but Jonathan Danty might just be one of the ingredients that kick-start the French revival if he is given the chance. Danty is just 23, which is probably one of the primary reasons why he missed out on the World Cup under Philippe Saint-Andre. Noves has picked the Stade Francais player, who was one of the best in his league last season, and he should repay that faith over the five rounds.

POINT TO PROVE — GUY NOVES

Toulouse have not won the French title since 2012 and have not been a significant fixture in Europe since the high water mark of 2010. It is the only real blemish on Noves’ record as a coach. He clearly has the CV for the position as France coach, but needs to prove that he still has what it takes.

STAR IN THE MAKING — RABAH SLIMANI

The Stade Francais prop is quite a character. After his side won the French Top 14, the former No 8 stripped down to his pants and slid along a soaped down floor of the changing rooms straight in to the Bouclier de Brennus, the French championship trophy. On the field he is a destructive tighthead who can also operate on the other side of the scrum. The 26-year-old has a monstrous work ethic.

PREDICTION — 5th

France have Italy first in Paris and then host Ireland with the benefit of an extra day of rest in Round 2. As far as a confidence-building exercise is concerned, things do not get any easier for the French. The path becomes trickier with away matches in Cardiff and Edinburgh before the return to Stade De France to face England. France are the most difficult team to get a handle on, no change there then, but it is more likely to go wrong than right.

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