Selecting the Greatest-Ever France XV
France has provided the rugby world with some of the most talented, mercurial players we have ever seen.
They have produced tries no other country is capable of while somehow blending outrageous flair with monstrous forwards.
They are, without question, the greatest rugby nation never to have lifted the World Cup, despite reaching three finals and two semi-finals.
There is a galaxy of stars to choose from, but here is my greatest French XV.
15. Serge Blanco
Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Blanco was the man you’d edge a little closer to the TV to watch and see what he would do next.
He was such a balanced, graceful runner and had such a wonderful rugby brain, he could sum up a situation in a heartbeat and plot the best course through the defence, launching some of the most audacious counter-attacks rugby has ever seen.
He tore Australia apart in the 1987 World Cup with this typically French try.
11. Patrice Lagisguet
To many observers, the man nicknamed the Bayonne Express was the closest thing to a track sprinter ever seen on a rugby field.
He won 46 caps on the wing for France and was also part of their 1987 World Cup side, playing a major part in the amazing try that sent Les Bleus through to the final.
He holds the record for France for tries scored in a single match, with seven plundered against Paraguay in 1988.
14. Philippe Saint-Andre
The diminutive man from Montferrand was a prolific international try-scorer, with 32 tries in his 69 tests.
He maintained his high rate even at the end of his career as a player for Gloucester after a long period of service for Montferrand.
Saint Andre was fast, had an awesome sidestep and played with a fearless commitment well beyond his stature.
He has forged a successful coaching career with Sale, Toulon and now the French national side.
13. Yannick Jauzion
For a big man, he had such grace and handling skills. Jauzion took France to another level when he was in the side, equally adept at busting tackles on the charge as he was executing lightning-fast offloads to release team-mates into space.
12. Phlippe Sella
Sella was a magician in the midfield but also had great power in his game. In short, the man could do it all. He played in three World Cups and held the record for international caps until Jason Leonard overtook him.
10. Didier Camberabero
You seldom see a French No. 10 mentioned in any list of great fly-halves. Recent generations of supporters have been reared on the infuriating inconsistency of the likes of Thomas Castaignede and Frederic Michalak. Before them, however, were a gaggle of French pivots more revered.
Thierry LaCroix and Christophe Lamaison were both more consistent that the later incumbents. But in this team it has to be Didier Camberabero.
The impish No. 10 was lightning fast and had the skill to manipulate the ball with his feet almost as adeptly as he could in the hand. His part in the great French try at Twickenham in 1991 was key.
9. Fabien Galthie
It’s close between Galthie and Pierre Berbizier for the scrum-half slot, but the younger man takes it on account of his IRB Player of the Year award and higher cap count.
Galthie’s facial expression hardly ever seemed to change, whether he was inexplicably out-jumping much bigger men to claim an up-and-under or darting between back row forwards to sprint clear for a try.
6. Serge Betsen
Betsen was a relentless, fearless back rower at home in either the No. 6 or 7 shirt. His capacity for sheer volume of work was unmatched in his prime.
He went after opposition fly-halves like a crazed gun dog chasing downed game. England fans will remember him best for his awesome display in 2002 when he took Jonny Wilkinson to pieces. He tackled all day long and hunted down the ball remorselessly. One of the all-time greats.
7. Olivier Magne
There is stiff competition here from Thierry Dusautoir, Laurent Cabannes and more, but Magne stands out for sheer talent as a rugby player.
You could have shuffled him into the centres in an emergency and not seen much difference in the back line’s incisiveness. Magne was lightning quick over the ground, could kick like a half-back and was a great forager.
8. Imanol Harinordoquy
The man opposition sides love to hate, the brash Basque was less of a powerhouse than the likes of Louis Picamoles or Sebastian Chabal, but his rugby brain was far in advance of his rivals. He was a world-class lineout operator and superb runner with ball in hand.
5. Fabien Pelous
The giant Pelous amassed a whopping 118 caps foe Les Bleus. He was the lynchpin of the French lineout in a 12-year career and was a huge presence as captain and ball carrier.
He also led Toulouse to several trophies in France and Europe during a career that he finally brought the curtain down on in 2009.
4. Abdel Benazzi
The man from Morocco was capped more in the back row than he was at lock, but his 25 appearances in the second row are more than enough to find a slot for this bruising, hugely talented player in this side.
He was cruelly robbed of a try in the 1995 World Cup semi-final when he appeared to have scored to knock South Africa out, only for the referee to rule he had come up short.
3. Armand Vaquerin
Named in my selection of the six best props in history, Vaquerin was in the vanguard of fearsome French front-row forwards of the 1970s. He played in 10 title-winning sides for Beziers and struck fear into opposition front rowers.
2. Raphael Ibanez
Ibanez was an all-action No. 2 whose lineout could occasionally go awry. But he more than made up for that with his work in the loose.
He skippered France for many of his 98 caps, including during the 2007 World Cup on his home turf. He set the tone for the side on so many occasions with his selfless, no-holds-barred style.
1. Christian Califano
Califano often quipped that he didn’t enjoy scrummaging and dreamed of teaming up with his old Toulouse mate Thomas Castaignede in the centres for France.
He’d have made a decent fist of it, too. He was lightning fast for a prop forward and a man of his size was hard to stop on the charge.
He was, despite his dislike for the dark arts, a fearsome scrummager. He was the epitome of a modern day prop forward.
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