When new France boss Fabien Galthie announced his Six Nations training squad on Wednesday, it was worth noting that only one of the 42 players selected was over the age of 30.
Incredibly, 19 of the 42 players listed in the new squad have yet to be capped, while the average age of the team is just under 24 years of age. Big names have gone since the World Cup, some of them retired while others have been shown the door.
Backed by two U20 World Cup winning teams – six are selected in the fresh squad plus a talented core – Galthie has an exciting job on his hands as he bids to propel this golden generation of talent back into the world’s top tier again.
But the progress will be slow as it’s the first time in years that the youth of French rugby have been entrusted with its future and not those associated with its turbulent past.
Galthie did shadow Jacques Brunel during the World Cup, and has experience of serving as head coach at Stade Francais, Montpellier and Toulon in the past. Experience, lessons and man management skills that will stand to him.
Making that jump into the top seat of an international team will be tough. However, the addition of Laurent Labit, Thibault Giroud and Shaun Edwards to the coaching ticket will help relieve some of that pressure and allow Galthie to delegate various jobs to his staff.
Hoping to employ a fast paced game plan will require optimum preparation, and adequate time will be needed with his players to allow them to get comfortable with new tactics, new coaches and new players around them.
Of the 23-man squad that came within minutes of a place in the World Cup semi-final last October, ten players no longer survive.
Guilhem Guirado called time on his international career at the end of the World Cup. The same goes for Sebastien Vahaamahina and Louis Picamoles.
Maxime Medard (33) and Yoann Huget (32) didn’t make the cut, but are reaching the end of their respective careers. Other men axed include Rabah Slimani (30), Wenceslas Lauret (30), Camille Lopez (30) and Maxime Machenaud (31).
Of the 19 backs in the new squad, the average age is 23.7 years with Arthur Vincent, Romain Ntamack and Louis Carbonel among the youngest at 20. The oldest players are Virimi Vakatawa, Vincent Rattez and Anthony Bouthier at just 27.
Centre Gael Fickou, who turns 26 in March, is the most experienced player with 51 caps.
In the forwards, the average age is 24.1 years. Flanker Bernard Le Roux of Racing 92 is the oldest at 30 – one of two names aged over 27 in the squad. The youngest is prop Jean-Baptiste Gros of Toulon at 20.
Charles Ollivon, who takes over as captain from Guirado, has only started seven Tests. The 26-year-old Toulon flanker is a fearless leader and brings a voracious workrate and composure to a burgeoning side.
It’s a young team with plenty of promise and that’s not to mention the star men who can set games alight going forward.
The likes of Damian Penaud, Antoine Dupont and Ntamack are already established stars and add mettle to a purring back line. Toulouse talisman Dupont is the most gifted of the three stars, his pace and strength adding to his excellent vision and razor-like passing.
Up front, the two props from the 2018 U20 World Cup winning team are shaping into leaders at senior level too. Demba Bamba – 6 ft 1′ and 124kg – and Gros – 6 ft 4′ and 110kg – were giants at underage and have the potential to cement their world class ability over the next decade.
It’s exciting times for Les Bleus. Of course, it’s hard to know where they will go in the short term, given two of their opening three Six Nations matches are against England and Wales.
But, in all honesty, the team should be primed and ready to compete strongly when the World Cup comes around on home soil in just under four years.
By that time, Galthie should transform a raw and generally inexperienced team into a finely-tuned beast, capable of putting it up to the best in the world.
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