LONDON (Reuters) - France coach Fabien Galthie is wary of player burnout in a Rugby World Cup year as he begins the defence of the Six Nations crown won last year in convincing fashion by counting down the 16 matches to the global final in Paris on Oct. 28.
The French domestic season is a long one and Galthie is already without a number of key players going into the Six Nations, which will be a final competitive run-out before they host the World Cup in eight months’ time.
Jonathan Danty, Cameron Woki and Gabin Villiere are all long-term absentees, while regulars Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros and Maxime Lucu are also missing from a Six Nations squad with eight new caps.
"We focus first on coming together and this desire to become a team again with these 42 players," Galthie told reporters on Monday.
"Since I took over (as coach), we have played 30 games in three years. Now we have five in this tournament (Six Nations), then four preparation matches and seven to the final of the World Cup.
"That will be another 16. It is a team still in development and we have clearly identified points for improvement. We have had strong times but also weak times."
Galthie is wary of picking up more injuries and says they will be cautious with the players in the coming months.
"We listen to them, we ask how they feel. They know their bodies better than anyone," he said. "It is always important to do some form of audit."
France start the defence of their title in Italy on Feb. 5, before a crunch clash away in Ireland six days later. They must also travel to England on March 11 for another tough road trip.
"It is complicated this year with three away matches and we have to improve on our game as the other teams have," captain Antoine Dupont said. "Year on year it is really difficult to maintain such a high level.
"It is always hard going in as title holders and pulling off two (title wins) in a row is tough. It does feel different this time having won the year before."
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Christian Radnedge)