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Projected starters: France

Projected starters: France

Antoine Dupont France

France will go into the Autumn Nations Series on the back of a record-equalling ten consecutive Test victories but Fabien Galthié has some major headaches to deal with when it comes to selection.

While Les Bleus have regularly thrived in the absence of key men, whether it was due to club clashes on summer tours or limits on the number of matchday squads during the 2020 autumn, Galthié has never faced quite as many injuries as he does coming into November.

Grand Slam stalwarts Cyril Baille, François Cros and Gabin Villière have all been ruled out already, while there are others who are currently absent and running out of time to prove their fitness.

So with games against Australia, South Africa and Japan coming up, what sort of team could we see from Les Bleus?

Front row

The absence of Baille, who had surgery in the summer, leaves a big gap that will likely be filled by Toulon loosehead Jean-Baptiste Gros.

He has been the back-up to the Toulouse man for more than two years now, and while he has also missed time this season, he looks to be back fit and ready to take on the starting role.

His club colleague Dany Priso, who arrived from European champions La Rochelle in the summer, is probably next in line and would be likely to make the matchday squad, with a number of contenders battling for the third spot in the squad.

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Hooker is one of the few positions where there have been no injuries at all as yet, and Galthié will be hoping that continues with Julien Marchand and Toulouse teammate Peato Mauvaka having nailed down the starting and bench roles respectively.

Peato Mauvaka France

Castres’ Gaëtan Barlot and La Rochelle’s Pierre Bourgarit have both been looking good in the race for the third spot in the squad.

Another injury at tighthead prop, to Lyon’s Demba Bamba, means that position is relatively straightforward, with Uini Atonio the likely starter and Mohamed Haouas in line to be his back-up.

Second row

There is rather more uncertainty at lock, where Paul Willemse has established himself as the bedrock of the pack, but is still only just back from a serious knee problem that kept him out of Montpellier’s run to the title last season.

His return is all the more invaluable considering France’s other tighthead lock, Romain Taofifenua, is also sidelined at the moment.

Yoram Moefana celebrates scoring a try with Cameron Woki

Across from Willemse, Cameron Woki has been first choice when available, but he is still settling in at new club Racing 92 and could come under pressure from Thibaud Flament, who has been in fine form after missing a couple of weeks at the start of the season.

Galthié had also namechecked Killian Géraci as being close to a starting role before he suffered a major knee injury at the start of the year, so his return to fitness will be worth monitoring.

Back row

There would appear to be an obvious solution to the absence of Cros with former skipper Charles Ollivon back fit again. While he might not take back the armband from Antoine Dupont, Ollivon seems the logical candidate to join Anthony Jelonch and Grégory Alldritt in the starting team.

Alldritt Rugby

He could potentially face competition from Yoan Tanga, one of the revelations of the summer tour to Japan, while Sekou Macalou might not get a starting role but has shown his bench credentials by featuring on the wing for France in both Tests against the Brave Blossoms.

Dylan Cretin has also been a regular fixture in squads under Galthié, but is another who is currently out injured.

Scrum-half

Along with hooker, this is arguably the position of greatest depth for Les Bleus, and also a spot with minimal injuries.

Provided he stays fit, World Player of the Year, Dupont is the unquestioned starter, with the expectation that he will keep the captaincy as well. Maxime Lucu has impressed every time he has served as his back-up off the bench and should continue in that role.

Baptiste Couilloud is currently number three, and his knack for scoring tries will certainly help his cause in trying to shift up the hierarchy.

But youngsters Nolann Le Garrec and Léo Coly have both been in squads and will surely get capped at some point. Could that be as soon as this autumn?

Fly-half

Perhaps the biggest question mark comes over the No.10 jersey where Romain Ntamack has been out of action since the second week of the season with a leg injury.

The expectation is that he will be back, and if so, he would likely come straight back into the starting line-up.

Romain Ntamack makes a break from behind his own try line

If he isn’t ready, Matthieu Jalibert has shown he is a more than capable back-up, while Louis Carbonel has thrived since a summer move to Montpellier.

The wild card could be Thomas Ramos, normally a full-back, but on fire for Toulouse with Ntamack out. He has started two Top 14 finals at fly-half, so is certainly capable of playing the position, and should be in around the matchday 23 at the very least with that versatility.

Centre

The sad retirement of Virimi Vakatawa and another major knee injury for Arthur Vincent have reduced the options in the midfield for Galthié.

First-choice pair Jonathan Danty and Gaël Fickou would seem the obvious choices to start, the former having made a flying start to the season and the latter marking his return from injury with a try at the weekend.

Their main competition comes from Yoram Moefana, the standout performer on France’s summer tour of Japan and another of the form men in the Top 14.

Both he and Fickou can also play on the wing, which could open up an opportunity for fit-again Pierre-Louis Barassi as well.

Back three

One spot should be reserved for Damian Penaud, who has been in flying form for Clermont, but the absence of Villière leaves a hole on the other side.

Moefana might be the most likely candidate, having filled the role during the Guinness Six Nations when Villière and Penaud missed time.

Penaud France Autumn

If it is not him, then Matthis Lebel is in form and had a good tour of Japan, while Alivereti Raka is the Top 14’s top try-scorer and could come back into contention. Last, but not least, Teddy Thomas is fit again and has shown some sparks at new club La Rochelle.

Full-back is also up in the air. Melvyn Jaminet was the man in possession and seems the most likely starter, but Max Spring got the nod in the final Test against Japan. Add in Anthony Bouthier, outstanding for Montpellier, and the aforementioned Ramos, and there are plenty of contenders.

France possible XV

15. Melvyn Jaminet
14. Damian Penaud
13. Gaël Fickou
12. Jonathan Danty
11. Yoram Moefana
10. Romain Ntamack
9. Antoine Dupont

1. Jean-Baptiste Gros
2. Julien Marchand
3. Uini Atonio
4. Cameron Woki
5. Paul Willemse
6. Anthony Jelonch
7. Charles Ollivon
8. Grégory Alldritt

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