Three players to watch on France’s summer tour

Jacques Brunel was thrown in at short notice in this year’s NatWest 6 Nations but after a promising campaign it does not get any easier in June.

Jacques Brunel was thrown in at short notice in this year’s NatWest 6 Nations but after a promising campaign it does not get any easier in June.

Les Bleus head to New Zealand to take on the world champions in a three-Test series, looking for a first win over the All Blacks since 2009.

On that occasion they travelled with a number of new players and sprung a surprise in the first Test in Dunedin, where they will play on this tour.

Two players remain from that match, Mathieu Bastareaud, who will likely captain the team in the absence of Guilhem Guirado, and Maxime Médard, scorer of the winning try.

Brunel has had to cope with a number of injury absentees, including Yacouba Camara and Maxime Machenaud, both of whom impressed in the NatWest 6 Nations.

As a result he has named a new-look squad including a pair of debutants in Pierre Bourgarit and Félix Lambey.

We have taken a look at three key players to look out for in the Test series which features Tests in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.   Pierre Bourgarit   Guirado has been such a talismanic leader in recent times that it almost hard to imagine a French team without him. However after a gruelling season, he has been given the summer off, opening the door for a new hooker to emerge.

It is a position of strength for Les Bleus, with Adrien Pélissié making a big impact during the Championship, while Camille Chat was arguably Racing 92’s top performer in the Champions Cup final last month.

However in Bourgarit, France have a dynamic young forward who could catch the eye in New Zealand.

Formerly of Auch, he arrived at La Rochelle last year and has quickly imposed himself with his ball-carrying. That included one 60-metre try against Toulon in the Top 14, and a call-up to the national squad at the end of the NatWest 6 Nations.

Anthony Belleau   The fly-half position has been a tricky one for France in recent years, and it has not been easy for Brunel even in the first six months in charge.

Camille Lopez has been injured and misses this tour to remove a plate from the ankle he broke last October, while Matthieu Jalibert, Lionel Beauxis and François Trinh-Duc are also out.

As a result, Belleau is the only fly-half from France’s NatWest 6 Nations campaign who is still fit, but he ended the season in fine form for Toulon.

Still relatively inexperienced, this was his first full season of senior rugby, Belleau has the chance to impose himself with Les Bleus in the long-term with some strong performances. He should also be helped by the experience of the man expected to partner him in the half-backs. Speaking of which…   Morgan Parra   You have to go back to the 2015 World Cup for the last time Parra played for Les Bleus (albeit in red on that occasion), but he should make his long-awaited return this summer.

Tipped to start before the Championship, Parra suffered an injury that kept him out of the whole of the campaign, but he made his return for Clermont and has got back up to match fitness in recent months.

Vastly experienced, having made his Test debut back in 2008, Parra was unquestionably Clermont’s best player this season in a difficult campaign.

An accurate goal-kicker, a natural leader and very accomplished scrum-half, he should help fill the void left by the absence of Machenaud.

France are not short of scrum-half options, with Baptiste Serin also on the tour and young duo Antoine Dupont and Baptiste Couilloud currently injured but both capped at the age of 20.

At his best, Parra could be a match for any of them, and with Brunel on the look-out for leaders in his team, his scrum-half would certainly provide that.