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.

Sebastien Taofifenua
Photo: By 34 super héros (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Loosehead

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?

Tighthead

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.

Rabah Slimani
Photo: Daxipedia – Own work, via Wiki Commons

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

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.

7 COMMENTS

  1. That’s a great article Andrew Weaver great knowledge of the french issues as well

    Let me add some points:
    – Uini Atonio and Xavier Chiocci weren’t in the french november squad due to a 200€ bill let in their room on the June internationals series in 2017. They fell asleep as well during a video meeting so I don’t know how Brunel will consider their case. Moreover, they seemed too slow on the pitch despite some great explosivity from Chiocci to pretend to be competitive at the international stage.
    – Some clear starters have emerged under Noves: 1: Poirot 2 Guirado 3 Slimani. They played together the 6 Nations 2016, 2017 and the SA tour on June 2017, and the last sad November tests.

    Personally, I would like to see this back row settled for a while and then put on the bench Ben Arous because he is really athletic and brilliant at the breakdown. Cyril Baille is returning to the competition after a serious knee injury rehab and I loved how skillfully and clever this player is. One of the best tacklers on the field during the last Six Nations, which is great for a front row. You’re right when you highlight the form of Priso the last appearances he made with La Rochelle. At hooker, I like how commit Chat is when he plays but he doesn’t make a lot of passes and differences. The ball isn’t always alive after him and I hope he’ll improve that aspect of his game and his lineout throws the upcoming years. Bonfils from Stade Français had these skills. Bougarit from La Rochelle showed great things as well but we are sure here in France we will have to wait a long time until we get a future Dane Coles

    • Thanks for your comment, you seem to have a great grasp on the ins and outs of French rugby. I think that the French have promise in each position, but the question is more about what to do with it. I could see Tolofua and Priso being an absolute nightmare for any team in the world. Considering that they are so young, if they improve their technical skills, like throwing and passing, they could be the best front-row in the world.

  2. You’re welcome! Tolofua hadn’t much game time in Toulouse because he had problems with his throws. Moving overseas, in a faster championship is a good thing for him but he is only the 3rd hooker at Saracens. Priso is superb physically but like you said I wish he’ll improve his technical skills. Alongside Patrice Collazo the La Rochelle head coach and former front row it’s going to be easier I suppose.

  3. You’re welcome!
    Tolofua hadn’t much game time in Toulouse because he had problems with his throws. Moving overseas, in a faster championship is a good thing for him but he is only the 3rd hooker at Saracens. Priso is superb physically but like you said I wish he’ll improve his technical skills. Alongside Patrice Collazo the La Rochelle head coach and former front row it’s going to be easier I suppose.

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