France have yet to lift the Webb Ellis Cup despite playing in every tournament and reaching three finals. Other than their failure to win a Rugby World Cup, they have the best record of any European team – registering as many wins as 2003 champions England but with more points scored.
Having come so close to glory in 1987, 1999 and 2011, Les Bleus will be looking to put the record straight and go all the way when they host the tournament for a second time in 2023.
We take a look at France’s Rugby World Cup story.
RWC debut: 23 May, 1987 v Scotland at Lancaster Park, Christchurch
RWC appearances: Played 52 – Won 36 Drawn 1 Lost 15 – Points for 1,585 Points against 966 – Win ratio 69 per cent
Most RWC appearances: Raphaël Ibañez, 18 (1999-2007)
Most RWC tries: Vincent Clerc, 11
Best finish: Runners-up (1987, 1999, 2011)
Qualification for RWC 2023: Quarter-finalists at RWC 2019
Most memorable match: The RWC 1999 semi-final versus New Zealand at Twickenham. The 43-31 victory may not be the biggest comeback in Rugby World Cup history – that honour falls to Romania – but it was the greatest given the stakes and the opposition in front of them. With the score at 24-10 to the All Blacks, France looked dead and buried, but they pulled out all the stops to score 33 unanswered points in a scintillating half an hour or so of rugby.
Iconic moment: Serge Blanco’s dive for the corner of the Concord Oval pitch to finish off a free-flowing move and secure France a place in the final of RWC 1987 at the expense of co-hosts Australia.
Low point: Sébastien Vahaamahina’s red card against Wales in the quarter-final of Rugby World Cup 2019. The France second-row did himself and his team no favours by elbowing Aaron Wainwright in the face, an act of violence that received a straight red card and left Les Bleus playing the last half-hour with 14 men. The dismissal – with France leading 19-10 – proved to be game-changing as Wales clawed their way back to win 20-19.
Iconic player: Serge Blanco. An award that could so easily have gone to another Serge, the hard-as-nails flanker Serge Betsen who, alongside Thierry Dusautoir, tackled the All Blacks to a standstill in their RWC 2007 quarter-final. However, the swaggering play of Blanco from full-back best summed up Les Bleus at their best.
Record-breaker: Emile and Romain Ntamack became the first father-son combination to represent France on the game’s biggest stage when Romain was selected for Les Bleus’ opening match of RWC 2019 against Argentina in Tokyo. Emile played for Les Bleus in the 1995 and 1999 tournaments.
Did you know? Half-back Jean-Marc Doussain became the first player to make his test debut in a Rugby World Cup final when he took to the field five minutes from the end of the 2011 showpiece against New Zealand. At 20 years and 253 days, he was the third-youngest player to play in a final.
Quote: “I feel immensely sad and immensely proud at the same time. People have always said and thought that the All Blacks were the greatest team of all time, but tonight I think it’s the France team that was great, and even immense. It’s tough to take, we needed a little bit more.” – France coach Marc Lièvremont expresses his feelings after their RWC 2011 final defeat by hosts New Zealand.