Final chance to shine for France's Six Nations hopefuls
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This weekend is the last round of Top 14 matches before France's new head coach Fabien Galthie names his squad on January 8 for the upcoming Six Nations.
Former captain Galthie, 50, who replaced Jacques Brunel after the Rugby World Cup quarter-final exit, will be looking to claim a first title win in the annual tournament since 2010.
Here AFP Sport picks out some of the names playing for their place in the 42-man group before les Bleus' opening game of the competition against World Cup runners up England in a month's time.
- Captain question -
Hooker Guilhem Guirado retired from Test rugby following the World Cup quarter-final defeat after wearing the captain's armband for four years. Galthie has said he will refrain from naming a long-term replacement for Guirado and will use the tournament as a test. Loose-head prop Jefferson Poirot led les Blues in the rare absences of Guirado during 2019 and others also linked with the job include Toulon back-rower Charles Ollivon and Toulouse pair Julien Marchand and Antoine Dupont.
- Guarantees -
In one of the picks of this weekend's matches in the French top-flight Racing 92 welcome Clermont on Saturday with a host of individuals all but sure of their place in the squad expected to feature.
Camille Chat, the replacement for Guirado in the starting number two shirt and back-rower Bernard Le Roux are set to face the visitors' prop Rabah Slimani and loose-forward Arthur Iturria.
Among the backs, in-form centre Virimi Vakatawa could come up against the likes of Alivereti Raka and Damian Penaud, who was suspended for last Sunday's victory over Castres by coach Franck Azema due to the winger's poor attitude.
On Sunday, bottom-side Stade Francais play Toulouse in French rugby's Clasico with not just places in Galthie's squad up for grabs but potentially one in his starting lineup.
Gael Fickou and Sofiane Guitoune are set to feature at outside centre for their respective sides at Stade Jean-Bouin with an early chance to claim a stake to join Vakatawa in midfield.
- Possibles -
After lock Sebastien Vahaamahina hung up his boots following the World Cup, where he was red-carded and subsequently banned for elbowing Wales' Aaron Wainwright, Galthie could call on the likes of Lyon youngster Felix Lambey, South African-born Paul Willemse or veteran Yoann Maestri for a return to the international set-up.
Elsewhere, Toulouse scrum-half Sebastien Bezy, Bordeaux-Begles fly-half Mathieu Jalibert and Racing 92 winger Teddy Thomas could also be back.
- Outsiders -
France's U20s side has won the past two editions of the junior World Cup and Bordeaux-Begles back-rower Cameron Woki and Toulon fly-half Louis Carbonel could follow in the footsteps of fellow former trophy winners Romain Ntamack and Demba Bamba by being given opportunities at senior level.
At the other end of the age scale 27-year-old Montpellier full-back Anthony Bouthier has been impressive during his first few months in the top-tier after five years in ProD2.
This weekend's French Top 14 fixtures (all times 1945GMT unless stated)
Agen v Lyon (1430), Racing 92 v Clermont (1645), Bordeaux-Begles v Bayonne, Pau v La Rochelle, Montpellier v Brive
Toulon v Castres (1700), Stade Francais v Toulouse (2000)
© 2020 AFP