An epidemic… what epidemic? The choice of fifteen players and their eight substitutes (see list below) for the France-Wales match marks the return of rugby to international life after a seven-month hiatus. And denotes a good dose of perseverance on the part of the two strong men of the XV of France, Fabien Galthié (coach) and Raphaël Ibanez (general manager).
Ignoring the interruption of the 2020 Tournament, the cancellation of various international tours and the showdown with the presidents of the Top 14 clubs refusing to entrust their players with them for as long as planned, they intend to maintain their roadmap. Like nothing ever happened.
“Children against men”
The proof, the starting XV against Wales will be exactly the same as during the France-England of February 2, 2020, the first big meeting under the patronage of the duo Galthié-Ibanez. Bravely playing the card of daring, the new bosses stay the course of a young team (25 years old on average) and not exceeding the sixteen selections on average. “During the last Wales-France, the great Cardiff daily had headlined children against men”, smiles Fabien Galthié, all the more willingly since his little Blues had beaten the old reds.
The discourse of the Galthié-Ibañez method
Remaining on three successes in a row against England, Italy and Wales and a disappointment in Scotland, the Blues have another appointment with the Welsh in a friendly match on Saturday 24 October. Before playing, on the 31st, the last match of the Tournament interrupted in March, against Ireland at the Stade de France. A meeting at the top, which should deliver the name of the winner of a 2020 Tournament sliced by the Covid.
“A real collective test”
Update by Raphaël Ibanez: “This match against the Welsh is far from being a friendly meeting, that word does not exist in our sport, it will be a real collective test, with the challenge of playing without our audience”. Confronted for the first time with the empty stands of the Stade de France, since all the meetings of the fall will take place behind closed doors, the Blues have also started this international phase with only one training on the clock, which has never happened in the history of the XV of France. An additional difficulty that Fabien Galthié sweeps away. “We had our players for seven weeks at the start of the year, this week is the eighth and we made them feel a form of continuity, without which no performance is possible at the top level.”
Hence the unchanged composition, which should also be largely renewed for Ireland, except disaster on Saturday 24. “We have 23 players that we have chosen from a list of 90 studied for weeks, it is these guys that we must support and harden for the long term”. Which is measured in cycles of four years in rugby, the interval between two World Cups. The next one taking place in France in 2023.
Second chance for Mohamed Haouas and Teddy Thomas
A concern for stability that does not prohibit betting on certain players such as the pillar Mohamed Haouas, expelled after a bad gesture against Scotland. Or Teddy Thomas, released during the game against the Welsh, after being non-existent in the crucial area for a defense winger. “In different genres, these are players who have weaknesses, like all of us, but the training and the performances of the week make us confident, we choose a player for his strengths and theirs are indisputable”, continues Fabien Galthié confident in his group despite his reduced squad for these two crucial matches.
For the matches that await the Blues after Wales and Ireland during the Autumn Cup (competition imagined by the International Federation to bring money into the coffers thanks to broadcasting rights), the two bosses will have to rotate the workforce. And therefore retain players less indisputable in their eyes. Following tough negotiations between the Federation and the League of Professional Clubs, the internationals can only be called up three times in all for the six matches on the calendar by mid-December. Not enough to panic the duettists. “Now that we know the rules, we manage”, concludes Fabien Galthié.
The 23 selected against Wales
Holders: Anthony Bouthier – Teddy Thomas, Gaël Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Vincent Rattez – Romain Ntamack (o), Antoine Dupont (m) – Charles Ollivon (cap.), Grégory Alldritt, François Cros – Paul Willemse, Bernard Le Roux – Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille.
Substitutes : Jean-Baptiste Gros, Camille Chat, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Thomas Ramos, Arthur Vincent.