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Le Monde
Le Monde
5 Aug 2023


Palois center Emilien Gailleton and Bordeaux winger Louis Bielle-Biarrey during a training session in preparation for the Rugby World Cup, in Marcoussis, France, on August 2, 2023.

The road to the Stade de France passes through the outskirts of Edinburgh, and several players are hoping to secure a place on the coach. With just one month to go before the kick-off of "their" World Cup on home soil, the French national rugby team is back on the road to Murrayfield Stadium in the Scottish capital on Saturday, August 5. After almost a month of intense preparation – particularly physical, under the guidance of performance director Thibault Giroud – Les Bleus take on Scotland at 4:15 pm Paris time. This will be the first of four preparatory matches that coach Fabien Galthié's team will face before the World Cup (September 8-October 28).

"This match will enable us to prove our weeks of preparation, and will also launch this World Cup," said winger Gabin Villière this week at a press conference. After sweating it out at an initial training camp in Monaco, captain Antoine Dupont's teammates returned to the National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis (Essonne, Paris region) and will complete their preparation on the southwestern Landes coast, in Capbreton.

After Saturday's match at Murrayfield, Les Bleus will continue their busy month of August with a rematch against Scotland in Saint-Etienne on August 12, followed by two matches against Fiji (Nantes, August 19) and Australia (Stade de France, August 27). This will give them time to fine-tune their skills before the World Cup kicks off and, above all, to make room for a number of players before the 33-man roster for the competition is announced on August 21.

For this first match, the Scottish team has opted to field all its star players, from fly-half Finn Russell to winger Duhan van der Merwe. After having largely rotated his squad for his home match against Italy (25-13) on July 29, Scottish coach Gregor Townsend announced that he wanted to "put out as strong a team as possible over the next two weeks." Townsend said this was because "there is no bigger challenge right now in world rugby than playing France." In contrast, spectators at Murrayfield Stadium may find it hard to recognize the French line-up that kicks off on Saturday, as Galthié has unveiled a largely new team.

After a grueling season – and very few vacations – the Les Bleus staff have decided to give their key players (and usual regulars) a break for this first outing. Of the 20 or so "premiums" guaranteed to play at the World Cup, barring injury, only fly-half Matthieu Jalibert and second-row Cameron Woki will be on the field at kick-off (with hooker Peato Mauvaka and second-row Paul Willemse on the bench).

Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Gaël Fickou and others have stayed at Marcoussis, where they will be "working on strategy and [studying the characteristics of] the opponents we'll be facing at the World Cup," explained Karim Ghezal, the coach in charge of winning and specific tasks.

While the top French players are resting, the remaining 20 or so hopefuls – since the start of Galthié's appointment, it's 42 Bleus who have been training together – will be battling it out in Scotland. The aim is to earn a place among the 33 who will be ultimately selected for the big event taking place in September-October. The French coach denies it, but he will be keeping a close eye on each player's performance. Even if he rejected the notion of these hopefuls sitting on "folding seats" on Thursday and insisted that "the list of 33 is not a final decision" (injured players can be replaced during the competition), Galthié also insisted that the players must "earn their jersey."

On the French side this Saturday, three newcomers will be making their first appearance against Scotland: Bordeaux winger Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Pau center Emilien Gailleton – both 20 years old – and third-row Pierre Boudehent, a 25-year-old player with La Rochelle who already made a name for himself in the European championship. Having been familiar with Les Bleus for the past year, and regularly included in the preparation group for the Six Nations Tournament, all three players have been praised by the staff since the start of the preparation period. "A player with zero caps can be better than one with 50. So we have to make the most of the current situation," said Galthié on Thursday. "We've got everything to prove, everything to win, nothing to lose," observed third-row Paul Boudehent in the middle of July.

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Others are under more pressure. Starting with Brice Dulin, appointed captain for the occasion. Back with Les Bleus after a two-year absence, the Rochelais fullback faces stiff competition in his position. Like him, the returning Demba Bamba (prop), Arthur Vincent (center) and Jean-Baptiste Gros (prop), back in action after serious injuries, will have to prove that they can once again become "premium" players for Les Bleus.

At the time of the match, they will all be keen to secure their place on the coach's list. And that means a good showing in Scotland, where Galthié is "preparing for difficulty and chaos." "For the last four years, whatever our team competition, we've 'matched' [against Scotland]," said the coach. Whether it's a hybrid line-up or not, the French rugby team is entering the final stretch before the World Cup. And while the result is of little importance, the same cannot be said of the way in which the game was played.

Translation of an original article published in French on lemonde.fr; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.