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It crops up every year but there is no better rugby cliché than the one about Les Bleus, “who knows which French team will turn up?” Saint Andre has rotated his out- halves to such an extent that a lack of combinations and continuity have proved to be a real challenge for a misfiring back line. Former Irish International Donal Lenihan name checks the player who will solve this problem for the French. He also highlights a young Scottish Brian O’Driscoll – no pressure there then on this emerging young talent from Glasgow!
Wesley Fofana has been the standout French back for a few seasons now, even if the style adopted by French coach Philippe Saint- Andre has rarely played to the mercurial talent of the Clermont midfield genius. That may be about to change and the man to affect that could well be Fofana's Clermont teammate Camille Lopez.
Lopez has transformed Clermont this season and the hope is that he can do likewise for an underperforming French attacking unit. Of even greater importance, Lopez has the game management skills and kicking game that this French side has been so badly lacking in recent seasons.
Saint- Andre has chopped and changed at out half to such a degree that last season’s incumbents Freddie Michalak, Remi Tales and Jules Plisson never really convinced. That is about to change. With France also in Ireland's World Cup pool next September, Lopez looms as the biggest threat to Irish ambitions on two fronts. He has the capacity to take this French team to places they have not visited in some time.
It’s been a while since a Scottish midfield boasted a player with quick hands and dancing feet but in 22 year old Glasgow Warrior Mark Bennett they may have unearthed a gem. Bennett spend a year with Clermont Auvergne a few seasons ago without ever appearing in the Top 14 but even then new Scottish coach Vern Cotter spotted potential.
Gregor Townsend has nurtured and developed that early promise and Bennett was outstanding against a powerful Bath midfield in their recent epic Champions Cup clash. Bennett has the ability to glide past potential tacklers with an ease reminiscent of a young Brian O’Driscoll. While he has a bit to go to make anything like the impression O’Driscoll left on the game, the early signs are promising.
With so many of his fellow Glaswegians in close proximity, Bennett will feel at home despite having no previous Six Nations experience. If he can maintain the type of influence exerted in Europe this season then Scotland's back three will be the major beneficiaries.
Honourable mention too for Bennett's Glasgow teammate Jonny Gray. The young second row was superb for Scotland last November and has developed into a more rounded player than his big brother Richie, a Lion in 2013. Gray, the younger, looks set for a massive championship.