What is the problem with the French front row?
It seems as if they have all of the tools to be one of the most dominant front rows in world rugby, yet they can’t seem to find any form or consistency.
The French are notorious for having large, powerful front row-ers. It’s in their DNA. But the most recent pool of athletes have not continued this legacy. They certainly have all of the right pieces, but have they made it more complicated than it needed to be? Did Guy Noves rotate too often?
It is beginning to look as though the French have picked larger, heavier men, compared to the stronger and more athletic options. Sebastien Taofifenua, for example, is 1.78 m and 130 kg, whereas England’s backup loosehead, Harlequin’s Joe Marler is 1.83 m and 110 kg.
Look at England’s Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, and Dan Cole for comparison; Vunipola and George are excellent with ball-in-hand and at the set piece, Cole is an excellent scrummager and powerful workhorse.
In the loose, the French have tried Bordeaux’s Jefferson Poirot and Sebastien Taofifenua, Toulon’s Xavier Chiocci, Toulouse’s Cyril Baille and Racing 92’s Eddy Ben Arous. But a clear starter has not been established.
While each of these men have the necessary know-how to become a starter, none of them have enough pedigree to become a test-level prop. Or at least that is what it looks like. This seems criminal considering the form of La Rochelle’s Dany Priso.
This leaves Noves with several questions. Who does he pick? Should he choose a young player and give him experience? Who can be dropped?
The problems are not so large on the tighthead side, with Clermont’s Rabah Slimani and La Rochelle’s Uini Atonio both solid options. Slimani has made his case for the starting role and has proved that he is a premier tighthead prop at test level.
Atonio’s massive 1.96 m and 155 kg frame makes him an exceptional impact player and backup tighthead. Beyond these two great options is Castres’ Daniel Kotze, who provides experience with 210 caps in French Rugby.
Hooker also seems to be a problem area, with a clear replacement for Toulon’s ageing Guilhem Guirado yet to be found. While they are rotating between Clermont’s Benjamin Kayser or Clement Maynadier, a true successor has not been found. This is also criminal considering the promise of Saracen’s Christopher Tolofua, Racing 92’s Camille Chat and Grenoble’s Loick Jammes.
Guy Noves needs to look at his squad, start to finalise his front-row options, and figure out who he is going to stick with as the 2019 Rugby World Cup nears.
Author: Andrew Weaver
My name is Andrew, I live in New York City, USA, and I play second and back row for Play Rugby USA. When I am not playing rugby, I’m drawing, or enjoying a good book. Thankfully, I was able to navigate through the other American sports and land on rugby.