The great thing about being a new national coach straight after a World Cup is that you have licence to play a few shots and Fabian Galthie certainly seems to be taking full advantage of that. To rather labour the cricket analogy, you can go into T20 mode and try anything!
The new French supremo named 19 uncapped players in his initial long squad of 42 which gathered in Paris on Sunday to begin preparations for the Six Nations which is nearly upon us. And in addition to that there are a further seven players with five caps or fewer. It certainly gives a new twist to the old cliche of not knowing which French side is going to turn up. We barely know half the players involved.
We wait to see how many of the uncapped players are granted significant game time in the weeks ahead but there is the obvious potential for a mass baptism in the second game, against Italy in Paris a week after the more senior players have gone toe to toe with England.
And why not? Everybody keeps banging on about France’s golden generation of Junior World Cup winners – seven have been named in the squad – plus the plethora of other young talent that suddenly seems to be emerging around the country.
Many Top 14 clubs have belatedly recognised that they must treasure and nurture home grown talent a little more than in previous eras. There isn’t a bottomless pit of money to recruit world superstars, some of whom don’t really produce the goods anyway, ie Julian Savea. There is an appetite for encouraging home grown talent again. Now is surely their moment.
By my reckoning France and Marc Lievremont holds the modern day record of blooding 13 new caps in a Six Nations season, which they did in 2008 when Bernard Laporte had finally departed, although Italy gave them a good run for their money in 2016 when the departing Jacques Brunel, perhaps a tad demob happy, gave starts to 12 new players.
Let’s stay with France for a minute because the stats are very interesting and perhaps shed a new more favourable light on the eccentric Lievremont who generally gets a bad rap. Lievremont, with young uncapped talent stacked up behind the team of old stagers Laporte took to RWC2007, went for broke in 2008 with his new look team and the results were fair to middling with a third place.
In the following Six Nations, Lievremont capped just two new players and again a solid if unspectacular third was the result. Come 2010 – again just two new caps – the pendulum had swung with his much more experienced side claiming a Grand Slam. A year later, albeit most of the squad had fallen out with Lievremont and were not talking to him, France reached the World Cup final where they should have beaten New Zealand. Perhaps there was a certain method in his madness.
So there seems to be a fairly clear message and theme for Galthie here. Patience is a virtue that might well reap its reward. Get all or most of the new faces in with one fell swoop but don’t expect miracles initially with the youngsters needing time to bed in. Set expectations low and build. Explain all this to the Federation and the media and, if possible, get them onside
As Laporte – Galthie’s old coach and friend from when he captained France – now heads up the French Federation he won’t be a problem while Galthie has always been the chosen one as far as the French media are concerned. They have long argued for his promotion to the top job and will grant a longer honeymoon period that most. Otherwise they will look stupid.
But wait a minute. All this sober sensible analysis is not set in stone. Let’s briefly consider Wales where history relates a completely different story. In 2007 they finished fifth in the Six Nations and bombed at RWC2007, failing to reach the knock-out stages. Yet a couple of months later the newly-appointed Warren Gatland capped just one new player in the Six Nations and won the Grand Slam. Continuity and experience was prized, what Gatland wanted was simply for talented players to get much fitter and perform massively better.
Gatland continued his theme of continuity throughout his long Six Nations career, preferring to blood players on low key summer tours out of the spotlight of the Six Nations.
His 2012 Grand Slam team included just three debutants and his victorious teams last season precisely none. There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Since this article was written Fabien Galthie has trimmed his squad down from 42 to 28 players who will build on preparations for France’s Six Nations opener against England on February 2.
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