Fabien Galthie says France must learn to play without star man Antoine Dupont and has challenged Maxime Lucu to fill the void ahead of their Guinness Six Nations opener against Ireland.
Toulouse scrum-half Dupont is a major absentee for the championship as he focuses on his country’s sevens squad for this year’s Paris Olympics.
Understudy Lucu will wear Les Bleus’ number nine shirt for Friday evening’s curtain-raiser in Marseille, with uncapped Racing 92 player Nolann Le Garrec, 21, providing cover from the bench.
— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) January 31, 2024
La Rochelle number eight Gregory Alldritt has taken on the captaincy from Dupont, who was crowned player of the tournament in the three of the past four years.
Head coach Galthie told a press conference “It’s the moment to acknowledge Antoine.
“He chose an opening for the Olympics. It’s good to breathe, get out of what is usual in whatever way possible.
“He leaves a space, an opportunity for other players to take his shirt. Maxime Lucu has been with us since the start of our (journey) pretty much. He’s always been very good.
“It’s up to him to take charge of things, with his qualities, calmness, what he can do.
“We feel Nolann is ready to take on the role. I see this competitiveness in French rugby as a positive thing.
“Greg as a captain, leader, (full-back) Thomas Ramos and Maxime Lucu are part of them (the leadership team) now, they have to learn to play without Antoine.
“It will be interesting to see this different side of the French national team.”
Galthie’s starting XV shows five changes from the team which began France’s 29-28 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to eventual winners South Africa on October 15.
Yoram Moefana is preferred to Louis Bielle-Biarrey on the left wing, while Paul Gabrillagues and Paul Willemse are Les Bleus’ new lock pairing.
Francois Cros replaces the injured Anthony Jelonch at blindside flanker in the other alteration.
France, who were dethroned as Grand Slam champions by Ireland last year, are title favourites going into the competition.
“In four years, there hasn’t been a game without a requirement to win,” said Galthie.
“We’ve always heard the music in the background of requiring a win.
“There will be obstacles. The obstacles are the opponents. Before the World Cup, Ireland were world number one, now they’re world number two.
“We’re conscious of the run of games we have, South Africa, now Ireland, who also lost in the quarter-finals (to New Zealand).
“Defeats are part of the journey, as are obstacles. We like it, pressure, requirements, it’s not a problem for us, we’re here for that. We’re solid.”