Preparation has been the trial word for France who have seen a new head coach and a pair of consultants arrive among their staff ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Jacques Brunel replaced the sacked Guy Noves in December 2017 and former Les Bleus captain Fabien Galthie, who takes over from Brunel after the tournament, as well as ex-Racing 92 boss Laurent Labit have joined the set-up.
They are all looking to continue the French record of reaching at least the quarter-finals of every edition of the tournament.
Standing between them and a last-eight spot and potentially a fourth final appearance in nine editions are Argentina, England, the USA and Tonga.
“In terms of results, we have a difficult pool, our first challenge is to get out of it,” said Brunel.
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“History shows after that France are capable of going very far.”
The impact of the advisers was preceded by 65-year-old Brunel’s decision to drop the experienced pair of Morgan Parra and Mathieu Bastareaud in June from his original squad as they looked to implement a quicker style of play.
After training camps in Monaco and Valencia based around increasing the fitness of the squad, Brunel, along with Galthie and Labit chose against axing another veteran, in 79-time international Louis Picamoles.
His display in the final warm-up Test, a victory over Italy was enough to book his ticket on the plane for a third World Cup, before he retires from the international scene.
“He responded to the questions we put to him most notably in the match against Italy,” Brunel said.
“He showed his quality and his ability during the big matches,” he added.
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Two others who missed out were lock Felix Lambey and Dany Priso, the pair had been features of Brunel’s line-ups and were part of his original squad named at the beginning of the summer, unlike their replacements Charles Ollivon and Cyril Baille.
The duo only made their first appearances under Brunel during warm-up Tests against Scotland and the Azzurri in August.
“We took players who proposed good things during the preparation,” Brunel said.
“It’s without a doubt his (Baille) performances during the matches which made the difference with our decisions,” Brunel added.
One consistency in his selection choices has been among the backline with the likes of Antoine Dupont, Yoann Huget and Damian Penaud being mainstays.
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The trio were trial as their club sides, Toulouse and Clermont, reached the French domestic final in dominant fashion in June.
“What the new members of the staff have brought in has been good too, more detailed, more to do with the structures. A game plan where we can kick, we can play wide or we can play quite direct,” winger Huget said.
“If we respect all of that I think we can play well,” the 59-time international said.
Despite the recent changes, both on and off the field, Les Bleus will look to those individuals to transfer their club form to the international scene if they have any chance of maintaining their record as the only Six Nations side to have reached the quarter-finals at every World Cup.
Coach: Jacques Brunel
Captain: Guilhem Guirado
Maxime Medard, Thomas Ramos, Yoann Huget, Damian Penaud, Aivereti Raka, Wesley Fofana, Gael Fickou, Sofiane Guitoune, Virimi Vakatawa, Camille Lopez, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont, Maxime Machenaud, Baptiste Serin; Gregory Alldritt, Yacouba Camara, Arthur Iturria, Charles Ollivon, Wenceslas Lauret, Louis Picamoles, Paul Gabrillagues, Bernard Le Roux, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Demba Bamba, Emerick Setiano, Rabah Slimani, Camille Chat, Peato Mauvaka, Cyril Baille, Jefferson Poirot
FACTS AND FIGURES
● Have featured in the third most RWC finals (1987, 1999, 2011) but have never won the title.
● Of the four RWC defeats the All Blacks have suffered, France have been responsible for two of them (1999, 2007). Australia is responsible for the other two (1991, 2003).
● Have won only 36% of their Tests since the end of the last RWC (14/39).
● Have changed head coach twice since the last RWC in England with Jacques Brunel replacing Guy Noves in 2018 after he replaced Phillipe Saint-Andre at the end of 2015.
PLAYER TO WATCH — Damian Penaud
Recently converted from centre to wing and has been starring in the position for both France and his club side Clermont.
At 22 is set to be one of the breakout stars of the tournament with his combination of power, speed and agility.
Son of former French international Alain Penaud.
TOP RWC POINT-SCORER — Fredrick Michalak (136)
TOP TRY-SCORER — Vincent Clerc (11
AIM FOR TOURNAMENT
“In terms of results, we have a difficult pool, our first challenge is to get out of it, history shows after that France are capable of going very far.” — coach Jacques Brunel
WORLD RANKING — 8TH (79.72)
HOW QUALIFIED — AUTOMATIC (TOP 12)
RWC HISTORY — PLAYED 48: 33 WINS, 14 LOSSES, 1 DRAW
SATURDAY 21 SEPTEMBER
FRANCE v ARGENTINA: 5.15pm at Tokyo Stadium
WEDNESDAY 2 OCTOBER
FRANCE v USA: 5.45pm at Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium
SUNDAY 6 OCTOBER
FRANCE v TONGA: 6.45pm at Kumamoto Stadium
SATURDAY 12 OCTOBER
ENGLAND v FRANCE: 7.15pm at International Stadium, Yokohama