They are the hottest team in the northern hemisphere – maybe even the world – and are seen by some as a smoky to win the 2023 Rugby World Cup on home soil, and the impressive rise of France is set to be harnessed by the Wallabies, who have struck a deal to play Les Bleus on the Spring Tour and again in the lead-up to the World Cup next year.
After France toured Australia in July last year, the new games will make it five clashes for the Wallabies against the French in a little over a year.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie confirmed to The Sun-Herald that Australia will take on France in Paris first up on their November tour and then again in a pre-World Cup friendly next year.
“We are going to play them a couple of times, which will be fantastic,” Rennie said. “They’re a phenomenal side and have big men, big athletes, but they can really skin you with the skill that they have from one to fifteen.”
France’s rise has been eye-popping in recent years. The Fabien Galthie-coached side is on track for a grand slam title in the Six Nations after downing Ireland, Scotland and Italy in impressive fashion. Led by the current world player of the year, halfback Antoine Dupont, the French even beat the All Blacks in Paris in November last year.
France have risen from a world ranking of 10 in 2019 to third behind New Zealand and South Africa, and wins over Wales and England in the coming weeks could result in them going past the Kiwis and equalling their highest ranking of second in 2007.
Australia, who are ranked sixth, did well to beat the French 2-1 in a three-Test series last year, albeit with several of France’s stars not on tour.
Along with Dupont, exciting players such as Romain Ntamack, Cameron Woki, Gael Fickou and Melvyn Jaminet are playing with confidence and freedom.
Rennie said he has not been surprised to see the French finally begin to dominate.
“For a number of years, when you look at it, they have 14 teams in their Top 14, and have 14 teams under that,” he said. “So, lots of positional teams and all the best French players in the world play in France, and not many countries that can say that.
“All the big money is in France, so they can pick their best players all the time. Then, because of the money in the clubs, the best All Blacks, Wallabies, Springboks and so on, a lot of them go and play there, so their young players are rubbing shoulders with some of the greats of the game, and so I reckon over a number of years that’s of massive benefit to them. And you have seen that at a national level.”
France’s revival came after their under-20s team won two consecutive world titles in 2018 and 2019, beating Australia in the latter year. Many of the stars in the current Test team have graduated from that young group.
“They play a good brand of footy, don’t they?” Rennie said. “It’s no surprise to me they are standing above the pack. We talked about it last year when they came over to us. They might have left their 9-10-13 at home, but they brought a lot of that team that is playing now over here. They have got genuine depth and are playing great footy.
“They seem a lot fitter, so they have got better athletes who can play at a pace. And because they’re fitter, they have the ability to also defend for longer periods and then have the ability to strike from anywhere.”
The Wallabies will play France at home in the weeks before the World Cup, just as they did against the USA in 2015 and Samoa in 2011.