Is the return of Parra and Lopez on the cards? Who France could turn to for the Autumn Nations Cup

Is the return of Parra and Lopez on the cards? Who France could turn to for the Autumn Nations Cup

Fabien Galthie will be forced to test France's depth over the Autumn Nations Cup this year after an agreement between the French national team and the TOP14 clubs that players could only play two games during this test window. 

France have already played two games in this test window against Wales and Ireland respectively with Galthie using largely the same squad that featured in the Six Nations earlier this year. 

This means that Galthie has his 'first choice squad' for just one game in the Autumn Nations Cup as France take on Fiji, Scotland, Italy as well as their play off game. 

It's unclear when Galthie will opt to roll out his big guns but some reports in France have suggested that Vakatawa will run out against Fiji which could mean that France would play their remaining four games with a very different looking side to the one that beat Ireland last weekend. 

We take a look at some of the players he may turn to for the other three games.

The Return of Parra and Lopez?

Galthie has put his trust into youngsters since taking over as the French boss but he may turn to two more experienced heads during the Autumn Nations Cup. 

Parra and Lopez were regulars in the French squad between the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cup with both players also making the squad that went to the 2019 Rugby World Cup but haven't got a look into the side since. Lopez has been in superb form six games into the TOP14 season for Clermont scoring 84 points with a 94% kicking success and has assisted three tries. Meanwhile, Parra has missed Clermont's last three games due to COVID-19 but is set to make his return this weekend for the side.

Bringing the pair back into the test set up could work well for Galthie as he will know that they are well versed to what test rugby entails while the pair also know each others game extremely well having also played together at Clermont since 2014.  

Matthieu Jalibert, Louis Carbonel or Antoine Hastoy?

The biggest questions for Galthie to answer will be how he covers his two fantastic halfbacks in Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack. 

As for flyhalf he has numerous options with the already mentioned Camille Lopez, Bordeaux's Matthieu Jalibert, Toulon's Louis Carbonel and finally Pau's Antoine Hastoy.

Jalibert was a driving force in helping Bordeaux top the 2019/20 TOP14 log before the season was abandoned and was involved with the Six Nations squad earlier this year featuring via the bench. He is likely to make a start for France at some stage during the Autumn Nations Cup having missed the test against Wales and Ireland due to a positive COVID-19 test but he has since returned to action for Bordeaux.

There is also a potential test debut for former France u20 captain Louis Carbonel. Carbonel ran things at 10 for the u20s while Ntamack featured at inside centre and he too was part of the national set up earlier this year. He has turned out four times out of five for Toulon so far in the TOP14 and is kicking at a very high percentage of 93% for the tee, albeit he is the second choice kicker with Baptiste Serin on the club's books.

Another potential debut could come Antoine Hastoy's way. The relatively unknown flyhalf, outside of France, has been superb for Pau this term kicking at a high 88% from the tee. He has also made over 230 running meters in the seven games and has assisted two tries. Hastoy didn't feature at u20 level for France but his fine form has helped Pay to 3 wins and a draw from seven games which is already a better win rate than they had last season. 

Who replaces Dupont?

Another huge job for Galthie. France seem to roll out quality scrum-halves in the same manner as which New Zealand produce wingers and South Africa locks. However, Dupont will still be sorely missed in the Les Bleus starting line up. We have already mentioned the experienced head of Morgan Parra as a possible replacement while Baptiste Serin would normally be the go-to man. However, Serin has also featured on the bench for France's two tests so far.

So who comes in then? Maxime Lucu was a member of the Six Nations squad earlier this year and Galthie could turn to the Bordeaux scrum-half to partner his clubmate Jalibert, in the same manner, Dupont and Ntamack combine for Toulouse and France. Bordeaux also have the excellent Yann Lesgourgues who is also uncapped. Racing 92 have two more than capable options in 31-year-old Maxime MAchenaud, who has represented France and the 30-year-old uncapped Teddy Iribaren.

Judging on how Galthie has backed youth during his short tenure to date, Lyon's Baptiste Couilloud could be the front runner. The 23-year-old earned three test caps during the 2018 Six Nations and could well return to the side. Also a winner of the 2018 U20 World Championship, Couilloud could replace Dupont as he did in that tournament. 

Finally, there could also be an opportunity for Stade Francais' Arthur Coville who is also just 22 but has shone recently for the Paris-based club.

A test bow for Jordan Joseph?

The 2018 U20 World Player of the Year could finally make his test debut this year. The 20-year-old, yes he is only 20, has made just 3 appearances for Racing so far this term but could be trusted into the test arena to see if he sinks or swims. 

A powerful looseforward, it's more of a matter of when not if he makes his test debut with the absence of Gregory Alldritt possibly providing the perfect opportunity.


The fleetfooted Matthis Lebel and bashing Raka?

An 84kg winger with excellent footwork and a keen eye for the line, Matthis Lebel is another extremely talented back coming through the ranks in Toulouse. 

5 tries in 7 games sees him level with Cheslin Kolbe and Sebastien Bezy on the top scorer's list in the TOP14 so far this season with Josua Tuisova leading the way on six.

Lebel could be a handy addition to the side with his ability to play anywhere in the back three and has certainly impressed on attack beating 12 defenders in his seven games making 12 clean breaks and assisting two tries to go with his five scored. 

With Teddy Thomas and Damian Penaud sidelined, Galthie will just have to turn to other options with Vincent Rattez and Gael Fickou set for just one more test match.

With pace could come power as Alivereti Raka could return to the test arena. Raka qualified for France through residency last year and made the final cut for the Rugby World Cup after debuting after the Six Nations. Raka's inclusion in the squad is somewhat more unlikely as he will only return for Clermont this coming weekend after a three-week suspension. However, Galthie could risk his inclusion because of his explosive carries. 

Racing's props in?

One of the highlights of Racing 92's run to the final of the Champions Cup was the ability of their front rowers particularly at the breakdown. 

30-year-old Eddy Ben Arous has already represented France on 20 occasions while 22-year-old Georges-Henri Colombe is uncapped. 

Both players look more than capable of stepping up to the test scene with Cyril Baille and Mohammed Haous set to drop out of the squad.

Recalls for other former starters?

If Parra and Lopez are in the mix for recalls, the same could be true for the likes of Rabah Slimani, Wenceslas Lauret, Sofiane Guitoune and Yoan Huget.

Gatlhie will have to name almost an entirely new squad and it's unlikely he will completely back youth and will surely look to get some experience in his ranks. 

Who knows, he could even convince the likes of Jefferson Poirot and Guilhem Guirado to come out of retirement for a short stint in the test squad. 

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