Guy Novès and Bernard Laporte have never got on but they are the two figures responsible for fixing the problems that have left France without a Six Nations title to their name since 2010
Despite everything the clichés lead us to believe, we usually do know which French team are going to turn up, and while they may well be able to beat anyone on the day they seldom do. For the past five years France have been as mercurial as the February weather. They last won the Six Nations in 2010, came second the year after, and since then have finished fourth, sixth, fourth, fourth and fifth. Among the world’s top 10 teams, only Scotland and Argentina have a worse record in the past five years than the French, who have played 55, won 24, and lost 29. Lately they have taken to consoling themselves with how little by which they have been losing. Narrow defeats against New Zealand and Australia in the autumn counted as highlights in a year in which they won just four matches.
Odd thing is, according to a recent survey rugby has never been so popular in France. It found that a third of the French population say they have an interest in the sport. That figure may not stand close scrutiny, but the broad trend is backed up by the increase in attendances in elite club rugby, up 40% in the past decade. Club budgets have grown, too. In 2013, the Top 14’s TV deal was worth £31.7m to the competing teams. The new deal, signed last year, brings in more than three times that amount. Last 24 June was a high water mark. Almost 100,000 turned out to watch the Top 14 final at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, a world record for a club match. But just five days earlier the national team, missing several key players, lost 30-19 against Argentina in Tucumán.
Related: Six Nations is the one European tradition that still unites everyone | Robert Kitson