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Six Nations: France on tour as Paris evicts Les Bleus

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The fashion, the food, the sights and the jouer jouer rugby: Paris is a staple of the Six Nations and a bucket list venue for anybody looking to experience the game at international level.

The Stade de France is home to iconic moments from multiple sports, most recently the Rugby World Cup final in October, but this year the home of Les Bleus will be bare and empty.

Constraints surrounding the Olympic Games, to be held in the French capital this summer, mean that France will open their Six Nations campaign in Marseille against Ireland tomorrow night before other home matches against Italy in Lille and England – a potential Grand Slam decider – in Lyon.

We will miss Paris

“Of course we will miss Paris,” France head coach Fabien Galthie said. “Paris has created some amazing memories for us.

“But playing outside of Paris will be great for the fans. They gave us amazing support during the Rugby World Cup and we hope we will be welcomed in every city that we play in.”

But if France are to repeat their 2022 feat of winning the Grand Slam, something they have managed four times in the Six Nations era, they’re going to need to do it without Antoine Dupont.

Dupont, known by many as the Petit General, has long been bossing Les Bleus from the No9 shirt.

The former world player of the year, he has ditched the national team for this campaign in order to qualify for France’s Sevens team at the Olympics.

But such is the depth in France, Galthie has been able to call upon Maxime Lucu of Bordeaux and Nolann Le Garrec of the Racing 92 Parish.

“It’s been nearly two years since we were aware of Antoine’s decision,” Galthie added. “So we were not that surprised when it was announced. He recently played a sevens tournament.

France on the march

“Dupont is obviously a star in our team. He represents more than rugby; he represents France. But the great dynamic that the team has will keep growing and this Six Nations is a great way to develop that relationship with fans across the country.”

But it is not just Dupont France will be missing. They’re without the likes of flanker Anthony Jelonch while Emmanuel Meafou will be absent for parts of the Six Nations due to injury. 

The bookies have France as favourites for the title, followed by Ireland and England with the same top three backed, in the same order, for the Grand Slam.

France have been able to develop a deep connection with their fans over the last five years. They have seen TV viewing figures rise and fans vying for tickets in numbers unseen before.

Les Bleus have captured a nation in a way many traditionally football-orientated countries have failed to do.

Six Nations culture

And much of that is down to the culture. Galthie in charge often speaks in poetry about the game, describing it as an overture requiring a crescendo.

English defence coach Shaun Edwards brings the brute force France’s packs of days gone by were famed for.

And the others add the flair that feels so distinctive to the French system.

They’re many neutral’s favourite team and are often slapped with the tag of everybody’s second favourite outfit.

But tomorrow’s crunch match could decide the title, according to some, with Les Bleus and the Emerald Isle the two most fancied to win the title.

“Ireland are second in the world having gone into the Rugby World Cup as first,” Galthie says. “They’re obviously been an amazing team and achieved the Grand Slam last year.

“But France is ready for this and Marseille will be amazing with the fans. We are ready.”

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