PARIS (Reuters) - France surrendered their Six Nations title on Saturday but over the last four years they have rediscovered their brilliance and less than six months before hosting the World Cup Les Bleus know they have a credible shot at claiming the crown.
Since Fabien Galthie became head coach in 2020, France have won 80% of their tests and went on a 14-game winning streak that ended against this year's Grand Slam victors Ireland to strike the right note of caution before the Sept. 8-Oct. 28 finals.
They ended up second in the Six Nations standings a year after completing the Grand Slam, scoring 12 tries and 94 points in their last two games, including their memorable 53-10 record destruction of England at Twickenham.
"We started the tournament in unremarkable fashion," said Galthie as he drew his conclusions on his fourth Six Nations in charge of France. "We did our best and we've improved over the course of the championship."
Winger Ethan Dumortier added: "These last two games show how well we can perform when we're at our bets".
Under Galthie, France also inflicted a 40-25 defeat on New Zealand - their first win against the All Blacks since 2009 - as the halfback pair of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack established themselves as the most formidable in the world.
Ntamack's perfect link up play with fullback and Toulouse team mate Thomas Ramos has also been at the core of France's resurgence, while lock Thibaud Flament has become a key player among the forwards.
"We're the best attack of the tournament," said Galthie, whose team have not finished below second place in the Six Nations in four editions.
"In defence, we've adapted to new regulations (in the rucks). I don't know if we're the team to beat (for the World Cup), but I certainly hope that the other teams fear us."
He acknowledged, however, that France were far from perfect.
"We've done some fine-tuning and it paid off but there is still room for improvement," said Galthier. "In defence, we can do better, we can also improve on our play without the ball."
Dupont said Les Bleus needed to be more consistent.
"Often we lead and because of our own mistakes we allow our opponents back into the game," the scrumhalf said, after France beat Wales 41-28 on Saturday after leading 20-7 at the interval.
"We gave Wales a couple of soft tries so we need to be more consistent and more rigorous for 80 minutes."
The countdown to France's opening World Cup game against New Zealand is on and, even if some tactical sessions are still necessary, their firepower and ability to score ridiculous tries out of nowhere will keep their rivals on their toes.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)