David Barnes with lat­est news around French Six Na­tions squad

The Rugby Paper - - News - DAVID BARNES

“Our team is cer­tainly not the best, but can ri­val all the oth­ers ex­cept the All Blacks” Bernard Laporte

French rugby supremo Bernard Laporte says his coun­try will find a place among the three great­est rugby pow­ers on earth. Hap­pily for Eng­land boss Ed­die Jones, who con­fronts France in both the Six Na­tions and the World Cup this year, Laporte adds it will take a decade for his fore­cast to come true.

“I am ready to put my name to that now,” he goes on, “in view of the re­forms we have made at academy level.”

For the mo­ment, Jac­ques Brunel, his na­tional man­ager, has echoed that be­lief in youth when se­lect­ing his squad of 31 for their open­ing two in­ter­na­tion­als against Wales on Fe­bru­ary 1 and Eng­land nine days later.

Poster boy for this move­ment is cen­tre Ro­main Nta­mack, 19-year-old prodigy of Toulouse and son of Emile who trod the same path from club to coun­try with such dis­tinc­tion.

Eng­land young­sters re­call him rue­fully for his help­ing France to be­come U20 world cham­pi­ons last year by beat­ing them in the fi­nal.

There will be much emo­tion in the Nta­mack fam­ily when he first steps out for France.

Nta­mack is ac­com­pa­nied by an­other debu­tant in Thomas Ramos, 23, his Toulouse team-mate at full-back.

Brunel says of the pair: “It is a sur­prise to no-one to see these play­ers in the squad. They are seen at their best in a club that is pro­duc­ing good, ef­fec­tive per­for­mances.

“Ro­main is a cen­tre, but can also lead the at­tack. He is be­tween a 10 and 12. He has started the sea­son at a high level and is very con­sis­tent.

“Thomas is a full-back who can play fly-half. He can also or­ches­trate the game and is a for­mi­da­ble goal-kicker.”

There are three more new­com­ers in prop Do­rian Aldegheri, 25, one of seven Toulouse play­ers, La Rochelle flanker Gre­gory Alldritt, 21, and South African lock Paul Willemse.

Aldegheri was a last-minute se­lec­tion to re­place Ce­date Gomes Sa, in­jured in train­ing. Alldritt, born of a Scot­tish fa­ther, is seen by Brunel as a No.8 who can pro­vide com­pe­ti­tion for Louis Pi­camoles.

And Willemse, 26, from Mont­pel­lier, left his own coun­try early in protest at be­ing over­looked by na­tional boss Heyneke Meyer, now the team boss of Stade Fran­cais.

He had a French cap in mind from the mo­ment he joined Greno­ble when he was 21. At 6ft 7in and over 21st, he brings a mas­sive pres­ence to scrum and li­ne­out.

France won just ten of the 21 games they played un­der sacked boss Guy Noves and now Brunel. A sad record, of course, but one to which Laporte lends his own rosier per­spec­tive.

He says: “I still be­lieve in our World Cup chances. The year has not been pos­i­tive in terms of re­sults. But, when you look closely, we lost in the fi­nal sec­onds in Ire­land, who are beat­ing ev­ery­body. Same thing with South Africa.

“We beat the English and the Ar­gen­tines. We lost by noth­ing at all in Wales. Our team is cer­tainly not the best, but can ri­val all the oth­ers ex­cept the All Blacks.

“France had play­ers who were bet­ter than the oth­ers ten years ago. That is not the case to­day, but they are no worse than the oth­ers. I am sure we will do great things in 2019.”

Laporte still in­sists the small for­tune Noves seeks from a tri­bunal next month would be worth pay­ing for the “unity” Brunel has tried to es­tab­lish be­tween clubs and coun­try.

But his case hardly bears scru­tiny in the light of per­for­mances, the last of which was the most hu­mil­i­at­ing, and his­toric de­feat by Fiji at the Stade de France.

An in­aus­pi­cious de­but as sub for an­other of France’s new gen­er­a­tion, Brive prop Demba Bamba, 20, who re­tains his place in the squad.

Brunel badly needs a re­spectable Six Na­tions show to jus­tify the op­ti­mism of for­mer Toulon chief Laporte, but is not helped by hav­ing to visit both Eng­land and Ire­land dur­ing that cam­paign.

He must be re­lieved to be able to se­lect ex­pe­ri­enced Cler­mont pair, scrum-half Mor­gan Parra and cen­tre Wes­ley Fo­fana, both out in­jured dur­ing the Novem­ber in­ter­na­tion­als.

Es­pe­cially Parra, who has the pro­file of a con­firmed leader, an at­tribute France would like to see shared by oth­ers in the squad.

Laporte ex­plains: “Of course, that is so, but why? Be­cause French play­ers are not giv­ing the or­ders in their clubs. I have seen that at Toulon.

“When you re­cruit for­eign play­ers with 80 caps for their coun­tries, they be­come the lead­ers.”

No doubt with his own Jonny Wilkin­son in mind among oth­ers.

This is the squad Brunel se­lected this week to launch World Cup year:

Poster boy for French youth: Ro­main Nta­mack

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