France eye Six Nations boost after World Cup despair

France eye Six Nations boost after World Cup despair

France hosted last year's World Cup having won over a nation backing Fabien Galthie's team for home glory and a first-ever Webb Ellis Cup.

Arthur Vincent of France vs Uruguay during the Rugby World Cup France 2023
Photo by David Ramos - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images

An opening, comprehensive 27-13 victory over New Zealand set alight patriotic fervour in the belief that skipper Antoine Dupont could lead France to victory on home soil.

But those hopes were cruelly dashed at the quarter-final stage, eventual winners South Africa sealing a nail-biting 29-28 victory to unceremoniously dump Dupont and his side out of the competition.

The reaction in France was nothing short of desolation, mournful fans and pundits railing against perceived injustices in the refereeing display by New Zealander Ben O'Keeffe that they argued had helped rob a nation of its chance of victory.

Some of the criticism crossed the line, as a nation reeled from the defeat.

Springbok scrum-half Cobus Reinach, who plies his club trade at Top 14 club Montpellier, received death threats after praising O'Keeffe and his assistants for coping well with the pressure cooker atmosphere of the match.

"No regrets," Galthie maintained after the loss to the Springboks. "We did everything we could to make the most of our potential."

That potential must now be channelled into the Six Nations, with France kicking the tournament off with the World Cup final many a neutral observer wanted and even expected, against Ireland.

There had also been high World Cup hopes for the Irish, fresh from a Grand Slam in last year's Six Nations, but they went down to New Zealand in another gripping quarter-final, leaving coach Andy Farrell -- as meticulous as Galthie in his planning -- licking his wounds in disappointment.

"For us, it was a time of mourning," Galthie acknowledged.

"It's a huge disappointment after four years of hard work, four years of successful work with 80 percent wins and all those records.

"The only objective we wanted to achieve was to be world champions. There was no other."

France will be without Dupont for the Six Nations, the combative scrum-half having chosen to play for the national rugby sevens team ahead of this year's Paris Olympics.

- Back to school -

"It is like going back to school, just as is every Six Nations, but we are not starting from scratch," Galthie said of preparing for European rugby's showpiece tournament.

"There's a bit of a feeling that it's a new start, but also carrying on the last four years' work.

"We've lost two matches in two years, we've won a lot and it's interesting to fall back on this common path."

Gregory Alldritt takes over the captaincy from Dupont, but Anthony Jelonch, who deputised for the scrum-half when he was injured at the World Cup, will miss the Six Nations with a knee injury.

Galthie named several uncapped players in his new-look 34-strong squad, including Racing 92's Nolann Le Garrec, who will compete with Maxime Lucu for the starting scrum-half spot.

The other new faces are Racing half-back Antoine Gibert, Toulon team-mates in back-rower Esteban Abadie and lock Matthias Halagahu as well as young Bordeaux-Begles centre Nicolas Depoortere.

Stade Francais lock Paul Gabrillagues received his first call-up since the 2019 World Cup.

Among the main players missing due to injury are fly-half Romain Ntamack, lock Thibaud Flament and hooker Pierre Bourgarit.

The likes of flanker Sekou Macalou, playmaker Antoine Hastoy and winger Gabin Villiere are omitted by Galthie despite being part of last year's World Cup campaign.

France will need a strong performance against Ireland to kickstart the good feeling around the squad Galthie has built since taking over in 2019.

Without Dupont, all eyes will be on Alldritt's ability to step up into the captaincy gap left by a player most people agree is currently the best in the world, while Lucu and Le Garrec will be under pressure to click at half-back with Matthieu Jalibert.



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