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Trusting youth at heart of French quest to peak at next World Cup. Will Ireland do the same?

Cian Tracey


Galthie’s approach differs from Farrell’s who is slowly blooding new players

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France captain Charles Ollivon is leading a new wave of young players for Fabien Galthie's side. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

France captain Charles Ollivon is leading a new wave of young players for Fabien Galthie's side. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

France captain Charles Ollivon is leading a new wave of young players for Fabien Galthie's side. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

As soon as France won the rights to host the 2023 World Cup, there was a nagging sense that a sleeping giant was about to be awoken.

In the two years since, France have won back-to-back U-20 World Cups and while they can thank Sébastien Vahaamahina's moment of madness for not advancing further in the big one in Japan last year, it was all about what is coming down the track.

After dithering under coaches who never looked capable of saving the sinking ship, Les Bleus have finally unearthed a new-look back-room team whose vision is turning the tide.

The French public are back on side too which, as we have seen over the years, is crucial to the country's success.

With a home World Cup to look forward to, it has been easy to get behind a young team, which in three years will likely have an even greater influx of exciting talents. That it has been 10 years since France last won a Six Nations title is not a good look for the tournament and while other teams, including Ireland, have benefited hugely from their fall from grace, the sport needs France to be strong.

The relationship between the national team and Top 14 clubs is as tight as ever, with the union's president Bernard Laporte having played a key role in smoothing tensions.

Impressive

With three Top 14 teams, Clermont, Racing 92 and Toulouse, set to feature in the Champions Cup quarter-finals next month, France's impressive winning start to the Six Nations has eased any concerns that this is yet another false dawn.

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Charles Ollivon:  Not so much a fresh face in the squad, but rather a new captain at 26. Photo: Dave Winter/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Charles Ollivon: Not so much a fresh face in the squad, but rather a new captain at 26. Photo: Dave Winter/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Icon Sport via Getty Images

Charles Ollivon: Not so much a fresh face in the squad, but rather a new captain at 26. Photo: Dave Winter/Icon Sport via Getty Images

Fabien Galthie has been a breath of fresh air since taking over as head coach and is hitting all the right notes.

It says a lot that France's outstanding scrum-half Antoine Dupont (23) could be considered a veteran, as Galthie named an initial squad with an average age of 24 with every player but Bernard Le Roux under 30.

It's a bold approach and one which is very different to what Ireland's head coach Andy Farrell has opted for as he looks to build more slowly rather than completely ripping up the script.

In Farrell's defence, injuries have somewhat hampered him in that regard as Caelan Doris (21) started Ireland's Six Nations opener before injury curtailed his involvement after only four minutes, while Rónan Kelleher (22) might well have also started that game had he not missed the two previous months through injury.

Still, it's difficult to get away from the fact that France have reacted to being dumped out of the World Cup quarter-final very differently. It helps that their playing pool is much deeper to that of this country, but let's not forget that last year's Ireland U-20s won the Grand Slam, while this season's crop have won three from three games. There is plenty of talent emerging through the system - it is now a question of how that will be harnessed over the coming years.

Galthie's masterplan is all about timing his side's run for the next World Cup and that they are already eyeing a Slam in the first year of the project bodes well.

They will be tested in Murrayfield on Sunday before Ireland look to dash their hopes in Paris the following weekend, should the game go ahead.

Whether they win the Grand Slam or not will not derail their progress, and being king-pins now won't count for anything unless they can back it up in 2023.

Ireland found that out to their detriment in the last cycle, but there is a steely toughness about this France team that suggests they are built for the long road ahead. In Dupont and Romain Ntamack (20), France have a half-back pairing who are already delivering on their undoubted potential.

That Ntamack is backed up by two 21-year-olds, Matthieu Jalibert and Louis Carbonel, is indicative of the direction France are working towards.

Trusting youth is at the heart of their quest to peak at the next World Cup. It will be fascinating to see if Ireland will be brave enough to do the same.

Irish Independent