France are no strangers when it comes to hosting the Rugby World Cup, having previously held the tournament in 1991 alongside the four Home Nations (England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales) and in 2007 on their own.

However, despite being just one of three countries to have hosted rugby’s most prestigious event on more than one occasion, France have yet to win a title, with their best results coming in 1987 (the first edition of the tournament), 1999 and 2011, when they finished as runners-up.

This year though, there is a genuine buzz in the air around Les Bleus, given the improvements that they have been making over the last years on the field. They have been dealt a relatively kind hand in the pool stages (they have been drawn to face Italy, Namibia, Uruguay and New Zealand), and there is every reason to think that 2023 could be their year to lift the Webb-Ellis Cup at last.

Head Coach

When Jacques Brunel left his post as head coach in November 2019, it was clear to everyone that France had hit rock bottom and needed an entirely fresh approach, with the tactical ideas of Philippe Saint-André, Guy Novès and Brunel never really allowing them to show what French rugby is all about (aside from the old cliché about never counting France out until the final whistle, which was still applicable at times).

Fabien Galthié was the man seen by many as that fresh start, and his appointment has so far proven to be a masterstroke, with his win rate standing at an astonishing 80% and a first Six Nations title in 12 years being delivered on his watch.

The style of rugby that he has tried to implement has been just as exciting, with France progressing into a really attack-minded team with a strong defensive foundation, and there is always a significant amount of anticipation whenever their players step out onto the pitch.

Attacking play

There are two ways to sum up France’s attacking play, with the first being power from the forwards and the second being grace and accuracy from the backs.

Starting with the former, what Galthié has done is to assemble a pack who are capable of delivering quick breaks and getting over the gain line, with them making strong carries and always looking to force their opponents onto the back foot as they try to limit the opportunities that they provide for counterattacks or turnovers.

However, that is where the pace and precision of the backs comes in, because they are the ones that the team rely on to get the ball moving and to transfer it into the right areas, and there is always a strong sense of awareness in their play when doing this which has proved instrumental to their progression on the field.

Marrying these different skillsets together is why France have been so potent whenever they have the ball, and it would not be a surprise to see those who come up against them blasted to one side at one time or another when the World Cup gets underway.

Defensive play

The defensive side of things is where France have in the past let themselves down, but it has been a key area of improvement during Galthié’s time in charge as he has tried to give his team a platform to build their offensive play on.

The person who deserves the most credit for their improvement out of possession is Shaun Edwards, who has worked wonders since joining the team back in 2020, having left his role as Wales’ defence coach the year before, and France have definitely looked more organised and accurate out of possession with him on the coaching staff.

If France are to have any chance of ending their long wait for a World Cup title, then they will need to get this aspect of their game absolutely spotless, because there are plenty of teams travelling to the tournament who will be out to exploit any chinks in their armour that they can find, and Australia did show in the final round of the Summer Nations Series that France are not completely invincible and can be broken down.

Key players

When looking at which players will drive the team forward, it is hard to look past captain Antoine Dupont, given that he has been central to everything that France have done well under Galthié.

Time after time, the Toulouse scrum-half makes the right decisions with the ball and ensures that Les Bleus can execute their game plans to perfection, linking up with key threats like Clermont winger Damian Penaud and setting up chance after chance for the team to score, and the fact that France manage to unlock so many opposing defensive line is down to his decisiveness and constant awareness of what is happening in all areas of the field.

There are others who will be key to their title hopes, such as loosehead Cyril Baille, who is always a strong scrummager, lock Thibaud Flament, whose stock has risen significantly this season after a really positive season for club and country, and Grégory Alldritt, who is one of the best ball-carriers in the Northern Hemisphere.

However, there is little doubt that what makes Les Bleus tick is the control that they have from those in the middle of the field, and keeping Dupont fit will be critical if France’s expected title bid is to come to fruition.

Tournament prediction

France are undoubtedly one of the favourites for the World Cup title, not only because they will be in front of their own fans, but also because they have so much quality in their ranks and have built up their stock over the last years in their preparations for this moment.

Their hopes of winning silverware will be boosted by other traditional powerhouses, such as New Zealand and Australia, going through tough patches of late and looking beatable, meaning that there could be less genuine obstacles standing between them and the Webb-Ellis Cup than some might expected there to be.

All in all, despite them being in the tougher side of the draw, it is very feasible that they could be the ones lifting the trophy into the night sky at the Stade de France on 28 October.