France’s first NatWest 6 Nations campaign under Jacques Brunel produced plenty of cause for optimism.
After slipping to narrow defeats to Ireland and Scotland in the opening two rounds, Les Bleus were on an eight-Test winless run.
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But they bounced back in the Championship with wins over Italy and England before a narrow loss to Wales in round five rounded off a largely positive campaign.
And the foundations have now been laid for 2019 and a Championship that could prove vital with another Rugby World Cup on the horizon. 01/02/2019 – France v Wales – Stade de France France get a chance for revenge straight away in 2019 over a Wales team that were narrow victors in Cardiff.
Les Bleus will take heart from their dramatic win over Wales in Paris in 2017 – a match that took over 100 minutes to complete.
But Warren Gatland’s side have won six of the last seven meetings between these two sides on a run that stretches all the way back to the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final. 10/02/2019 – England v France – Twickenham Les Bleus’ revival was epitomised by their hard-fought win over England in Paris this year.
And they will head to Twickenham in round two next year looking to lay down a marker against a side they have been drawn with in the same Pool for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
But you have to go back to a World Cup warm-up game in 2007 for the last time France won in south west London – can Brunel make it two from two in Le Crunch? 23/02/2019 – France v Scotland – Stade de France Not since 1999 have France fallen to defeat at home to Scotland and Brunel will be keen to continue that fine record next year in round three.
Teddy Thomas scored a magnificent first-half double against the Scots this year at BT Murrayfield but the boot of Greig Laidlaw turned the clash on its head in the second half.
And Les Bleus will know that they will need to tidy up their discipline if they are to continue their home winning run against the Scots. 10/03/2019 – Ireland v France – Aviva Stadium Only a last-gasp Jonathan Sexton drop goal denied France victory over Grand Slam winners Ireland in this year’s Championship.
Indeed they came closest to denying Joe Schmidt’s side the clean sweep out of anyone in 2018 and in Dublin next year they will look to finish the job.
Les Bleus have not won at the Aviva Stadium since 2011 but their clashes with the men in green are always tight affairs – Brunel’s side will head to the Emerald Isle with no fear. 16/03/2019 – Italy v France – Stadio Olimpico On Super Saturday in round five, France will round out their campaign with a trip to Rome to take on the Azzurri.
The two sides played out a dramatic clash in Marseille this year as Mathieu Bastareaud returned to inspire his side to a fine victory.
But Les Bleus did lose in the Stadio Olimpico back in 2013 and Conor O’Shea’s Azzurri gave Scotland a real scare on Super Saturday this year.
So France know they will need to be at their very best if they are to emerge victorious in the Eternal City.