The French women’s XV faces New Zealand for its debut in the WXV

The France and Wales team during combined training before their first matches in the WXV, in Wellington (New Zealand), October 17, 2023.

How do you get back on track and set new goals after a defeat by the narrowest of margins, one point, in a World Cup knockout match? This is the delicate question that Antoine Dupont’s Blues will have to answer, beaten by South Africa in the quarter-finals (28-29), Sunday October 15. In more relative anonymity, the French women’s XV also continues to go through the different stages of its romantic mourning with the greatest competition in the world, the story having ended with a painful breakup in the semi-final against New Zealand (25-24)th November 2022.

Since then, the Blues have been rebuilding themselves. And this despite the relapse of the last Six Nations Tournament, during which they had let the trophy slip away to England. Outrageously dominated in the first period by the Red Roses, on the last day of the competition, the French reacted by scoring five tries. Enough to reduce the gap (38-33), but not the frustration of seeing a new title escape them.

There’s nothing like a new story to forget old defeats. It began for Les Bleues during the first edition of the WXV, a tournament bringing together 18 teams in three groups. The French were placed in the first, made up of the three best teams in Europe (France, England and Wales), and the rest of the world (New Zealand, Canada and Australia). The Blues begin their competition against the Black Ferns – the women’s counterpart of the All Blacks – on Saturday October 21, at 8 a.m. (Paris time) in Wellington, New Zealand.

“We are very excited to start this competition. It’s a great way to progress, to have high-level matches, for women’s rugby.”, explained this week the co-selector, Gaëlle Mignot. After the shock against the six-time world champions, the French will continue with duels against Australia, then Canada. Rare confrontations: the nations of the Northern Hemisphere are especially used to competing against each other during the Six Nations Tournament.

The competition is unprecedented, and the composition of the France group also exudes novelty. At 23 years old and with nine caps, Manae Feleu will wear the captain’s armband for the first time against the Black Ferns. She replaces Audrey Forlani, who held the position during the Six Nations Tournament. “Audrey knew, like all the players, that we were under construction on the captaincy. Behind, we make sporting choices”justifies Gaëlle Mignot. “I told myself that I shouldn’t change what I am and what I have always been”describes, for his part, Manae Feleu.

Despite her young age, the Grenoble player is used to wearing the armband at club level and stringing together high-level performances. “She can do almost everything: she is tall, athletic, can jump into touch, tackle… She is very complete in her game”underlines, admiringly, the former Bleues center Elodie Poublan (70 caps).

The 2025 World Cup in the crosshairs

That’s good: the second line will have to step up to lead a team which risks suffering from its lack of experience. The front row will notably be made up of pillar Ambre Mwayembe and hooker Elisa Riffonneau (19 years old and 3 caps each), while the opening half position will be entrusted to Lina Queyroi (22 years old, 6 caps) and the one behind Morgane Bourgeois (20 years old, 1 selection). We also find third row Léa Champon (20 years old) on the bench, who could honor her first international cap.

“We talk to each other, we communicate and we try to see if there is any stress, to help the young people, to relieve them. There is a lot of kindness, things are going well”, explains Axelle Berthoumieu. With his 12 selections on the clock, the third row almost acts as a captain in a group which saw many executives retire after the last World Cup, like scrum half Laure Sansus.

For this new French team, the objective is precisely the next edition of the World Cup, in August and September 2025, in England. Until then, “the goal is to establish solid foundationsexplains Gaëlle Mignot. But we are competitors, what will count for us is winning the match” against New Zealand.

“Whatever the result, this competition will be interesting. We will be able to see where France is compared to other nations”, adds ex-international Elodie Poublan. Hoping all the same for the Blues that the WVX is not added to the list of their unfinished love stories with international competitions.

Valentin Moinard

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