Twice runners-up under Fabien Galthié, France will be looking to make it third time lucky in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations and Les Bleus certainly have reason to be optimistic.
The 2021 Championship was a dramatic one for the French, with the last three matches against England, Wales and Scotland all decided by scores in the last five minutes, and in the case of the latter two, once the clock was in the red.
France won one and lost two of those and had to settle for second in the table behind Wales.
Since then, Les Bleus have recorded a first win over the Wallabies on Australian soil in 31 years, and then backed that up with an unbeaten Autumn Nations Series, capped off with a stunning win over New Zealand.
The 40-25 victory over the All Blacks was one of the defining moments of 2021 and should give France huge confidence ahead of the 2022 Championship.
As was the case in 2021, France open against Italy. In Rome last year, Antoine Dupont – the current skipper in the absence of Charles Ollivon and the World Player of the Year – was unplayable, setting up four tries and scoring another in a thumping success.
Back at the Stade de France, the hope will be for a strong start against the Azzurri on the opening Sunday before a six-day turnaround and a second home match against Ireland.
France have won both fixtures against Ireland under Galthié, a thrilling 35-27 success in the autumn of 2020 in Paris followed by last year’s 15-13 victory in Dublin.
Since that loss though, Ireland are unbeaten and a week before France turned over the All Blacks, Andy Farrell’s side were doing the same. It is always hard to predict what will happen in the Guinness Six Nations, but this game has the potential to be hugely important.
After the rest week, France travel to Edinburgh to take on Scotland, the only side they have not beaten in the Championship under Galthié. They did win on their last trip to BT Murrayfield though, Virimi Vakatawa’s score the difference in the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup meeting.
But after Duhan van der Merwe’s last-gasp try earned Scotland a first win in Paris since the turn of the century, France will be desperate to avenge that defeat against a Scottish team very much on the rise.
The second rest week will then be followed by a Friday night clash with Wales, a year after the teams played out one of the all-time great Championship encounters.
In that game, Brice Dulin’s try sealed an improbable comeback for Les Bleus, who trailed by 10 points with five minutes remaining and had lost Paul Willemse to a red card.
That made it three wins out of three against Wayne Pivac’s Wales, with the last trip to Cardiff among the best performances under Galthié, Romain Ntamack the standout in the first win in the Welsh capital for a decade.
The Championship curtain comes down on Super Saturday with Le Crunch, France hosting England in an evening clash at the Stade de France.
It was against England that this France team announced themselves to the world, stunning the World Cup finalists in the first game of the 2020 Guinness Six Nations.
England have won both meetings since, both times at Twickenham thanks to late tries from Luke Cowan-Dickie and Maro Itoje.
France have a good home record against England though, having won four of the last five meetings at the Stade de France.
Galthié and his players have made no secret of the ambition to turn promising results into silverware after near-misses over the past two years. We will find out soon if they will end the 12-year wait for a Championship title.
France’s 2022 Fixtures
Sunday February 6 – France v Italy – Stade de France, Paris Saturday February 12 – France v Ireland – Stade de France, Paris Saturday February 26 – Scotland v France – BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh Friday March 11 – Wales v France – Principality Stadium, Cardiff Saturday March 19 – France v England – Stade de France, Paris