France host Ireland in the 2024 Six Nations opener on Friday night as they look to bounce back from the bitter disappointment of their home World Cup last year.
Les Bleus fell to an agonising one-point defeat against eventual champions South Africa, but will be without talismanic captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont.
Despite this, the side he leaves behind are still one of the favourites to win European rugby’s top competition.
Coach Fabien Galthié will be able to call on Dupont’s long-serving back up, the brilliant Maxime Lucu, and the exciting but uncapped Nolann Le Garrec, to fill the half-back position.
The replacements are far from shabby.
Bordeaux Bègles’ Lucu would arguably go straight into the starting 15 were it not for Dupont.
Meanwhile, Le Garrec has been in strong form for French league leaders Racing 92 and is the fifth highest scorer in the Champions Cup.
As for the captaincy, last season’s European player of the season, Grégory Alldritt, is the man to step into Dupont’s shoes.
Having captained La Rochelle to win the Champions Cup two years in a row, the number eight is the obvious choice to replace the superstar scrum-half.
In addition to Alldritt, this squad has a wealth of talent who will class anything other than the title to be a failure.
The likes of hooker Peato Mauvaka, loosehead Cyril Baille, openside flanker Charles Ollivon, tighthead Uini Atonio and lock Paul Willemse represent a veritable mountain for any team to overcome – and that is just the forwards.
In the backs they can call on Bordeaux’s Matthieu Jalibert, La Rochelle’s Jonathan Danty and star of Netflix’s Six Nations documentary, Racing 92’s Gaël Fickou.
Add to that combination last year’s top try-scorer, Bordeaux Bègles’ Damian Penaud, who scores tries for fun, and you quickly realise how potent this team is.
France look formidable going into the 2024 Six Nations, even without Dupont and the injured Romain Ntamack, and will be desperate to put the hurt of crashing out of a home world cup behind them.
Losing to South Africa by one point is not exactly a shameful result, but in the context of the wave of expectation for this French side it was bitterly disappointing.
That result meant 2023 was a trophyless year for them after they also lost out on the Six Nations to Ireland.
Friday night therefore represents an opportunity to banish the ghosts of 2023 and to demonstrate that this side can go on to dominate world rugby.