Former Scotland international Tim Swinson has praised a ‘superb’ new generation of French players after naming Les Bleus his favourites for the 2021 Six Nations.
Swinson, 33, highlighted changes in attitudes towards defence as well as strength and conditioning for the new wave of young Frenchmen excelling in test rugby.
The Saracens lock won 38 caps for Scotland and came out of retirement in July to represent the north London side in the Greene King IPA Championship.
He said: “I think just watching that whole age grade of French players together is fantastic, I think you see a lot of attitude changes.
“Sean Edwards was one of their star signings and you can see how their defence and their attitudes towards it has changed.
“Sometimes in the past the French classed defence as optional, if they wanted it then they were great but if they didn’t then they couldn’t be bothered.”
Swinson also emphasised the importance of strength and conditioning on the side and put improvements there down to the impact of French coach and former Olympic bobsledder Thibault Giroud.
He said: “Giroud’s all about explosive power, he’s an ex Olympic bobsledder who was at Glasgow with me for a couple of years, and you see that in the way they play.
“They’re far more explosive and they can play at that explosive level for much more of the game.
“I think it’s led by the players, the younger guys who have only seen professional rugby have come through more professional academies meaning they really understand strength and conditioning which means they’ll probably place more importance on it personally.”
France play Italy in the Six Nations opener this Saturday, a side Swinson feels are still improving despite facing criticism over the last few years.
He said: “You look at what every team was like when they first joined the tournament. France took a long time to win a game, it’s a hard competition to join.
“If you look at the past few years they have the ability to win games, they’ve beaten Scotland, they’ve beaten South Africa, the only way they’re going to get better is by involving them in top competitions.
“You can definitely see it in the club game, when I started playing for Glasgow in 2012 we saw a trip to Italy as a stag do, and that was the same at every Pro12 club but now playing Treviso in Treviso is a very difficult fixture.
The Scottish lock also expects a fantastic game at Twickenham between England and Scotland but hasn’t taken Eddie Jones’s claims of a new English attacking style of rugby particularly seriously.
He said: “I still think the game is going to be very much won in the forwards. That’s where both sides excel, I think that physical battle up front will always be what decides which team can be the bigger attacking threat.
“Looking back to the game at Twickenham a few years ago, the 38-38 draw, it was such an emotional roller-coaster.
“I was watching with some friends in Edinburgh and at half time we were booking a taxi to go celebrate in town, but then when the game finished as it did we didn’t know how to feel.
“Scotland’s forward pack is very well drilled though and Scotland will have more players fit and available to play than they did in the Autumn Nations Cup, which when you look at England’s strength in depth is really important.”
On Sunday, Ireland play Wales in a huge game for under-pressure Wales head-coach Wayne Pivac, but Swinson called for patience from the Welsh rugby fans.
He said: “There’s obviously a lot of pressure, they’ve come in at a time where they’re making quite a big change from a system that’s been there for a long time, and I think the biggest issue may be the pressure from the fans.
“Welsh fans are the most supportive you’ll find but when things go badly they’re very quick to criticise.
“I think Wales will be under pressure if they don’t play with that specific Welsh style.”
Swinson also believes Ireland need to get the basics right at their set piece to get in to hit the standards they saw under Joe Schmidt and challenge for the Six Nations title.
He said: “I think Ireland have that tradition of having a well-functioning lineout and I think it will be interesting to see what Paul O’Connell does being in charge of that group.
“Hopefully it provides structure and a focal point where everyone knows who’s in charge.”
You can check out all of SWL’s Six Nations coverage here.
Featured image credit: Saracens