In 2020 France took a massive step forward as they came within inches of winning both the Guinness Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup.
In the former, the last-gasp bonus point conceded at home to England ended up costing them the title on points difference. Then at Twickenham in the Autumn Nations Cup final they led until the final seconds only to be denied by the English once again, this time in sudden death extra-time.
The challenge this year is to build on those performances and show that 2020 was not just a flash in the pan.
With successive World Under-20s titles in 2018 and 2019, not to mention the 2020 Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship in Antoine Dupont, there is no shortage of talent.
So it will be up to Fabien Galthié and his staff to kick on and try to bring home a first Championship title in 11 years.
Charles Ollivon’s career looked like it might be in jeopardy in 2018 when a succession of shoulder injuries kept him on the sidelines.
However, once he recovered from that nagging injury, he re-established himself as one of the brightest French talents in the back row.
Originally a No.8, he now plays on the flank and stepped up admirably in his first season as skipper last year. A valuable asset in the lineout, he also has an eye for the try-line, notching five last year alone.
Fabien Galthié joined the French coaching staff ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup before taking over as head coach in 2020.
The former France skipper is widely regarded as one of the best technical coaches in France and his influence was evident from the off with this team.
He and team manager Raphaël Ibanez, another former skipper of Les Bleus, have put together a formidable coaching team.
Defence coach Shaun Edwards is the standout figure after huge success with Wales, while Laurent Labit enjoyed a lot of domestic joy with Castres and Racing 92.
Up front William Servat and Karim Ghezal made a big impression with the forwards, while Thibaut Giroud is the head of athletic performance and has been crucial in ensuring the team is physically ready.
HOW THEY GOT ON LAST YEAR
France made a flying start to 2020 by beating World Cup finalists England in their first game in Paris. That day Charles Ollivon scored two tries as they raced into a 24-0 lead, although the England fightback to end up losing 24-17 ended up being invaluable in the final Championship shake-up.
After that France saw off Italy at home before a first win away to Wales in a decade, thanks in large part to a Romain Ntamack intercept try.
Defeat in Scotland, when Mohamed Haouas was sent off shortly before half-time ended their Grand Slam hopes before Covid brought the Championship to a halt.
Upon rugby’s return France came back from ten points down to beat Wales convincingly in a warm-up match before beating Ireland and earning a bonus point to round out the Championship, losing the title to England on points difference.
They got revenge over Scotland in Edinburgh in their Autumn Nations Cup opener, and despite being without their first-choice players because of an agreement between the FFR and the league, qualified top of their pool by beating Italy.
A vastly inexperienced side then led going into the dying seconds away to England, but Luke Cowan-Dickie’s try and the boot of Owen Farrell meant that once again, France were just pipped to silverware by their rivals across the Channel.
There is far greater expectation surrounding France heading into 2021 following the success of last year. They have a few more injuries to deal with than they did in Galthié’s first year in charge, notably with the absences of Virimi Vakatawa, Romain Ntamack and François Cros, not to mention Camille Chat and Demba Bamba.
They also face trips to England and Ireland in the campaign, with their last Championship wins away to each coming in 2005 and 2011 respectively.
Still, after what they showed in 2020, there is every reason for them to be confident as they kick off their campaign, starting with a trip to Rome in Round 1.
Italy v France, Rome, February 6, Kick-off: 14.15
Ireland v France, Dublin, February 14, Kick-off: 15.00
France v Scotland, Paris, February 28, Kick-off: 15.00
England v France, London, March 13, Kick-off: 16.45
France v Wales, Paris, March 20, Kick-off: 20.00