France’s next generation offers Fabien Galthié hope for a bright future

<span>Léo Barré inspired <a class=France to victory in Cardiff.Photo: Simon King/ProSports/Shutterstock” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ e2d920c59132d45″ data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 20c59132d45″/>
Léo Barré inspired France to victory in Cardiff.Photo: Simon King/ProSports/Shutterstock

“Maybe we recover a little faster than the older players,” France’s Léo Barré playfully noted ahead of their Six Nations final against England. The versatile Stade Français defender had been one of several newcomers who had led to a much-needed victory over Wales in the penultimate round, which had ultimately emerged victorious. Les Bleus from their post-World Cup slump. The team’s performance director, Nicolas Jeanjean, was more decisive in his praise of the debutants: “They bring their mental carefreeness and their physical energy, we see that in the data, but also subjectively”.

It is precisely that carelessness that characterizes the way Nolann Le Garrec has (temporarily) made the number 9 shirt his own – not least with his 35-yard back pass at the Principality Stadium. The Breton may not come from the southwestern rugby heartlands of the country, but they do chistera – a term borrowed from the basket-shaped glove used in Basque pelota – channeled the French flair of decades.

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There is an argument that the 21-year-old benefited from a revived package and a cleaner ball on breakdown compared to Maxime Lucu in previous matches. However, with his speed in breaking down and tactical ease, it soon became clear that the 21-year-old was ready to take over in Antoine Dupont’s absence. His tracking run to end France’s opening try against England – his second in as many starts – was particularly reminiscent of the man from Toulouse, who will now surely be kept on his toes on his return from Sevens duty after this Olympic summer.

Although Posolo Tuilagi did not feature in the final – missing the match against Wales through illness and returning to U20 action the following week – it was the Perpignan forward’s introduction to the team that proved the catalyst for Les Bleus‘rejuvenation. In his first start, against Italy, the Catalan had been one of the few French players to make his presence felt. Once the teenager came in to shake things up (quite literally), it opened the door for the rest of his cohort to get their own opportunities.

Bordeaux’s Nicolas Depoortère had a more difficult introduction to Test rugby. For most of the tournament, the U20 World Cup winner was shuttled back and forth from the national training center in Marcoussis, but was never included in the match squads. He continued to shine Les Girondins in the meantime, including a sensational end-to-end try against Racing 92. When his chance came, Depoortère – albeit in a somewhat unfamiliar position as a centre-back – struggled to carry that form over, although his defensive weaknesses were by no means an isolated were a standing case. for France this year.

The new generation is aware that they still have a long way to go before they fully graduate as regular customers of XV de France. For Barré himself, it was the veterans who decided the match against England in Lyon. “I am one of those who made mistakes that could have cost us dearly,” he said, despite having just been named player of the match. However, it is no coincidence that the best performances from the older players at the tournament came after Fabien Galthié had shaken up the starting line-up. Gaël Fickou, for example, looked more like the seasoned veteran his 90 caps suggest after some mediocre performances during the fall.

In any case, there does not seem to be a dip in form after the tournament for the newcomers. Barré took advantage of his impressive boot to find a 50-22 that helped Stade Français to a late victory over Lyon on Saturday, keeping the team at the top of the standings. Thanks to Le Garrec’s penalty in the 77th minute, Racing 92 pip Castres achieved a 23-21 victory. Depoortère was back at his best in Bordeaux’s thrilling victory over Toulouse (although it was his counterpart Paul Costes who stole the show). Following their breakthrough Six Nations campaign, the new cohort will focus on qualifying their teams for the upcoming Top 14 play-offs. The prevailing argument used to be that the strength of foreign talent in the domestic league was hampering the development of young players. Now it is the young French players who are the stars of the show.

At the start of the Six Nations, Galthié was criticized for his unyielding loyalty to his underperforming starters. However, as he pointed out in his post-tournament interview with L’Équipe, he believes young players need to be ‘immersed’ in the team before being thrown into senior test rugby. Le Garrec, Galthié noted, has been part of the senior squad since the 2022 tour of Japan, even though his first cap only came last month.

This summer’s tour of Argentina will provide the head coach with an opportunity to experiment with lower stakes. Players such as Émilien Gailleton, Marko Gazzotti, Maxime Lamothe and Lenni Nouchi have been involved in midweek training with the senior team in recent weeks and will look to consolidate that experience when they get their first international matches.

However, full turnover is not yet likely to occur as many of the veterans are apparently locked in for the next four years. Even Uini Atonio – who turns 34 on Tuesday – looks set to remain part of the team in the long term, having initially retired at the end of the World Cup: “I am here to guide the younger players – if I am needed for Argentina, then I will go,” the prop explained.

Completely eradicating the trauma of World Cup elimination on home soil is likely to be a long and difficult process, which could even take the entire four-year cycle. To get France back to its best, Galthié and his new-look staff plan to foster a symbiotic relationship between the stalwarts of his first quadrennial club and the new players. One generation will ‘guide’ the other, and vice versa, until the time comes for a complete transfer.

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