“Our team is very fit, but the Top 14 schedule is very punishing and we do not get a lot of time with the players. It’s tough, but we’re in good shape," said France coach Marc Lievremont.
Looks like he spoke too soon. Lock Sebastien Chabal misses France's opening game against Scotland with a back injury and France will also be without injured centre/wing Damien Traille and prop Fabien Barcella. Lievremont has made a few changes to his squad since November, with talented scrum-half and kicker Jean-Baptiste Elissalde replacing the banned Julien Dupuy. Centre Mathieu Bastareaud returns after being dropped for the November tests and utility back Fabrice Estebanez also joins the squad. There are a few shock omissions as once again Lievremont keeps everyone guessing. Fly-half Frederic Michalak, full-back Maxime Medard, wing Cedric Heymans, and Stade Francais fly-half Lionel Beauxis, have all been left out.
In 2009's competition, France finished third behind Grand Slam champions Ireland and their auld enemy England. France will be looking to build on their impressive 20-13 win over South Africa in November and forget about the 39-12 defeat against New Zealand. With home games against their biggest rivals, Ireland and England, this could be France's year.
So how will they fare?
Barcella's injury is a blow to France as he turned in strong performances against South Africa and New Zealand in the autumn. The French back row is impressive though, with Dusautoir, Picamoles and Harinordoquy. Chabal will miss the first game, but on the whole the scrum is an area of strength for France.
The second row looks a bit iffy for France, especially if Chabal misses more than the opener with his back trouble.
Attacking Flair: 88/100.
With Heymans and Medard left out in the cold, a certain amount of French flair has gone out the door with them. However, Harinordoquy is an agile forward who scores tries and Rougerie's form has been good this season. Poitrenaud and Clerc are both brilliant attacking players as is Malzieu. France do seem to have a weakness at fly-half which might dampen the Gallic flair, but this is a team of flamboyant risk takers, which is exactly what I want to see from France.
Pah! It's all about attack!
Stade de France. Capacity 80,000.
Snore Factor: 8/100.
Very low. France are risk takers who play flamboyant, running rugby. Dull is not the word.
Phwoargh Factor: 78/100.
Dieux Du Stade, anyone?
Scandal Potential: 76/100.
High. I don't like to raise the subject again, but there's always the chance of a backlash over Gouge-gate.
As for the final standings:
Last season: 3rd.
Prediction for this season: 2nd.