Analysis: Iturria’s emergence and the weight of Le Crunch

France head to Twickenham to take on their biggest rival looking to banish the demons of Friday night’s defeat to Wales and get a first win on the board in the Guinness Six Nations.

France head to Twickenham to take on their biggest rival looking to banish the demons of Friday night’s defeat to Wales and get a first win on the board in the Guinness Six Nations.

Les Bleus produced a blistering first half in Paris, racing into a 16-0 lead, only to see Warren Gatland’s side turn things around in the biggest comeback in the Championship’s long history.

That leaves Jacques Brunel with some big decisions to make ahead of a clash with England, who looked so impressive in securing a bonus-point win over Ireland in Dublin.


A lot was made of the French pack in Paris, weighing in at 953kg making it one of, if not the heaviest pack in international rugby.

With that in mind, England appear to have bolstered their squad bringing in Dan Cole and Ben Moon to counter the French power.

And yet it could be that France go into Le Crunch with a distinctly lighter side with two possible changes to the forwards.

Uini Atonio was forced off through injury against Wales and is a doubt to make Sunday’s encounter, while Félix Lambey could be rewarded for his impressive outing off the bench with a starting role.

If he were to come in for Paul Willemse, and Demba Bamba got the nod at tighthead in Atonio’s absence, the French pack could drop down to around 900kg, making it the second lightest behind only Scotland, and well behind England’s 935kg.

Weight in itself makes little difference, after all Wales more than held their own at scrum-time at the Stade de France, but those changes could have an influence on the way France play.

Much will depend on fitness, but the theory of moving a huge French pack around may be obsolete by kick-off at Twickenham.


Whatever way Brunel goes, one thing that will be a big focus is France’s second-half performances, after seeing a 16-point lead slip away on Friday.

This has become something of a worrying trend for Les Bleus, who have now lost five times from winning positions at half-time since the start of 2018.

While the Welsh defeat was easily the biggest half-time lead that had been surrendered, there will be concern at the way France allowed Gatland’s men to get back into the game so quickly in the second half.

In the previous four years, France had lost just twice in 19 games where they led at the break, with many of the same players involved.

That would imply this is more of a confidence issue than anything else, with Gatland claiming that the Welsh victory was a side who had forgotten how to lose facing one who are searching for confidence.


While there was a sense of disappointment emanating from the Stade de France on Friday night, one reason for optimism was the display of Arthur Iturria, the standout player for Les Bleus, and arguably either side.

Although he is originally from the Basque country, Iturria came through the ranks at Clermont as a dynamic second row, earning his France debut last year.

Since then he has made the switch to the back row, and impressed in that position in November. In fact even the great Imanol Harinordoquy singled him out as one of Les Bleus’ brightest prospects ahead of the Championship.

Against Wales Iturria set up a try for Yoann Huget, made 12 tackles out of 12 and was also France’s go-to man at the lineout where he claimed six of the ten French throws.

Add in three offloads and 51 metres made with ball in hand, and the 24-year-old looks to have cemented his place with France long-term.