France shapes as early Rugby World Cup 2023 contenders

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Two-time World Cup winner Steve Hansen and former Australia coaches Robbie Deans and Michael Cheika believe with a change of coach, France has lifted their prospects significantly.


Interviewed by French rugby newspaper Midi Olympique, the trio believe that if they continue to improve they will be a force at home in the 2023 event.


Under Jerome Galthié they have developed a record of seven wins in their last nine games and will be looking to build on that in the upcoming Six Nations.


Hansen said, "The French team has changed completely over the last year: it is aggressive, dangerous, sitting on a real game project and above all, driven by incredible energy, the energy of a talented new generation.


"These guys seem to play without the slightest fear. They have flair, throw themselves on all the recovery balls to make something special and, in general, are guided by a hinge of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack that has impressed me a lot in recent months."


Hansen said while kicking could make modern rugby boring, the French used it intelligently.


"Defences have tightened further since the last World Cup and winning teams are forced to move defensive blocks by kicking before launching attacks," he said.


Hansen didn't think the fact France and New Zealand were in the same pool would be a factor in 2023.

"In Japan, we beat the Springboks in the preliminary phase [23-13] and they ended up world champions; in 2011, we easily beat the French in the pool (37-17) and two weeks later, they very much scared us in the final.


"This game should not be given more importance than it deserves," he said.


Deans said he thought the side was showing the benefit of promoting French players ahead of foreign players in key positions.


"It's a very exciting time for French rugby. The World Cup will be played on French soil in 2023. They are preparing to win it and I have no doubt they will be ready.


"Look at what the Japanese did in 2019: they were dumped and yet they qualified for the quarterfinals. History has the power to lift men.


"It remains to be seen whether they [France] will be able to absorb the pressure associated with such an event. They seemed to struggle with it in 2007 but France can now beat anyone and Fabien Galthié has resources that his predecessors didn't," he said.


Cheika said France's defence looked more organised and there was aggression that wasn't evident before. He felt Shaun Edwards' influence was a factor in that. Their attacking play also showed the input of Laurent Labit.


They had a balance between their kicking and passing game.


He compared the difference in approach between France and England.


"The French use the kick as an offensive weapon. England is a team looking to lock their opponents into a hyper-structured game. France used kicks to move the defensive line," he said.


France denied fullback Eliott Daly the space to put in his long kicks, or to link with his wings. The French inside backs were all capable of playing that type of game, and he thought the return of Brice Dulin at fullback, a left-footer, had given France the weapon they needed to complete their armoury.


Cheika said it wasn't possible to predict how the French might go against the All Blacks two and a half years out from the World Cup.


"But looking at the French team, and its progress, since the arrival of Fabien Galthié, I simply say that the French will be favourites for the 2023 World Cup.


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