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Which France will turn up to face England at Twickenham?

It is a question which seems to accompany every staging of the RBS 6 Nations Championship - and 2017 is no exception.

From Paris to Perpignan and La Rochelle to Lyon, you can bet the debate will already be raging. Namely, which France team will turn up?

There used to be no doubt, as illustrated by Les Bleus winning five Six Nations titles in nine seasons between 2002 and 2010.

But that 2010 season - a Grand Slam campaign - was France's most recent taste of Six Nations silverware, as Wales, Ireland and England have dominated since then.

It is eminently possible that France could again find themselves on a slippery Six Nations slope after the opening weekend of this year's tournament, given that their first game is against England at Twickenham.

But international rugby's most recent form guide - the autumn Tests - showed a French squad appearing to make strides under head coach Guy Noves. Even though they were beaten narrowly by Australia and New Zealand, performance levels were high and sustained.

"We were very frustrated at the result of the Six Nations last year," Les Bleus skipper Guilhem Guirado said. "We had a good start with two wins over Italy and Ireland.

"And we were extremely disappointed that we couldn't finish with a win against England after two defeats against the other teams.

"We have built our team from that, which was shown in the performances we had against the two top teams in Australia and New Zealand during the autumn.

"This has helped us prepare very well for this Six Nations, which is going to be a difficult tournament, particularly starting against England, who are unbeaten for a long time."

The tournament build-up has not been plain-sailing in terms of injuries, with mercurial midfield talent Wesley Fofana ruled out of Six Nations contention, while prop Eddy Ben Arous is also an absentee, but with three French sides also through to this season's European Champions Cup quarter-finals, prospects remain promising.

Noves said: "Our expectations this year are to build a team that continues to improve constantly, to get closer to our opponents. Last year, we had matches we lost that we could have won, and vice versa.

"We're not that far from our opponents, but we must be more efficient. We cross the advantage line more than others, but we do not score, we don't achieve really, so the ratio is not very good.

"We have to try to reverse this ratio, and we must be killers in some areas so that we can chase wins.

"We evolved during the Six Nations, but also in the autumn against Australia and New Zealand. And some areas, it was the last two or three metres where we missed.

"What I mean by killers, I want my players to finish the actions they've started. And now the players are aware of that, they are aware also of what they are capable of achieving.

"And they know what to focus on, which is also very important.

"We are beyond halfway through this development, but now we have to be more consistent, more clinical and be able to finish our chances."


From Belfast Telegraph