Richard Kelly
Support play will show if France are interested
Richard Kelly
November 13, 2014
Wesley Fofana will spearhead the French attack in midfield. © Getty Images

It's an adage that has become somewhat cliched in professional sport, but it probably better describes France than any other side on the Test rugby scene: "It all depends on which side turns up."

The French are regularly filled with world-class talent; and when in form, they look extremely difficult to stop - even for the southern hemisphere's leading lights. They have a knack of upsetting the odds on the big stage as well, making Les Bleus making them dark horses that must be taken seriously each and every time they play.

There is a "but", however.

For each formidable showing at Stade de France or Rugby World Cup upset comes more than the odd squib performance. In fact, such squibs have become far too regular of late from a French perspective, and they are now viewed by many as only the fourth-best team in Europe. Strong November and Six Nations campaigns before the 2015 World Cup could change everybody's thinking; but at the moment it's merely a guessing game as to what they'll serve up in Paris in the coming months.

We examine the good and the bad since last November, profiling France's averages, and that of their opposition, in victory and defeat.

French insights

Les Bleus have won just five of 12 Tests since November 2013; against Tonga, England, Italy, Scotland and Fiji. France achieved success in these games through effective line running, the busting of tackles and, ultimately, the defensive line. It should be acknowledged that France, in recent Six Nations campaigns in particular, haven't struggled to break tackles with Mathieu Bastareaud and the elusive Wesley Fofana in their midfield ranks complementing some fierce ball-running back-rowers.

Their shortcomings have come in the form of a lack of support play, which means initial imprints on the defensive line have amounted to nothing. Indeed, they managed half as many breaks in losses as they did in wins, despite a healthy tally of tackles beaten.

Inconsistencies at the set piece do not appear to have hampered results too much, though it is interesting that France have averaged fewer breakdowns in their victories - demonstrative of a clinical edge. Going by a number of performance indicators being similar in victory and defeat, it could be argued that France's game plan never really changes. This lack of a 'Plan B' may ultimately be costing them rugby matches.

France (wins)France (losses)Winning OpponentsLosing Opponents
Penalty Goals3.
Drop Goals0.
Missed Goals1.
Goal %76%68%73%56%
Clean Breaks7.
Defenders Beaten20.416.814.217.8
Kicks from Hand23.222.225.521.4
Missed Tackles17.814.216.820.4
Tackle %87%88%87%83%
Penalties Conceded9.69.810.813.2

Opposition traits

France have been on the end of some comprehensive defeats in the past year, particularly away from home. When France have lost, they have usually contained their opponents to a modest overall gain but have still given up line-breaks at crucial times. Indeed, France have averaged an almost identical territory gain in their defeats as their opponents.

Their opponents have had little trouble stemming France's running threat, though, and it appears the secret to beating Les Bleus in recent times has been good discipline - with and without the ball.

© Opta Stats for ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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