France captain Antoine Dupont said on Monday that defending their Six Nations title and achieving a second successive Grand Slam will be tough.
The 26-year-old scrum-half added that the atmosphere in their camp has felt different this year, as they prepare to open the defence of their crown against Italy in Rome on Sunday week.
Last year, a vibrant French side coached by Fabien Galthie swept to their first Six Nations title and Grand Slam since 2010.
They remained unbeaten throughout 2022.
Although the Six Nations title is their immediate task, the ultimate goal is lifting the World Cup trophy for the first time later this year and on home turf to boot.
“It is always hard going in as title holders and pulling off two in a row is tough,” Dupont said at the launch of this year’s Six Nations tournament in London.
“It does feel different this time due to having won the year before.”
Dupont — the 2021 World Player of the Year — said the fixture list also makes it a tougher ask this year, with three away matches including daunting trips to the world ranked number one side Ireland (February 11) and historic rivals England (March 11).
“It is complicated this year with three away matches and we have to improve on our game as the others have,” said Dupont.
“Year on year it is really difficult to maintain such a high level.”
Dupont said that if France do let slip their title it will not be due to fatigue.
The French domestic calendar is heavier than their rivals but Dupont says game management is getting better handled at club level.
“It is complicated to find solutions over game management,” he said.
“We do ask ourselves how many games we should play each year but it is going in the right direction.”
Galthie questioned whether it was right to think in terms of a title defence.
“Are we defending a title or going for a title? That is the question we pose amongst ourselves,” he said.
“We are none of us, either coaching staff or the players, the same people as we were when we set out on this journey three years ago.
“Three years ago our goals were to restore France as a major rugby nation, win matches and titles and the goals remain the same.”
The former France captain and scrum-half — who took over at the helm after the 2019 World Cup — says he believes the team has united the French public behind them due to the crowd-pleasing rugby they play and their excellent run of results.
He conceded that performance-wise there had been ups and downs.
“It has always been our mission to get the French people to accompany us,” he said.
“Three years on that still lights us up.
“We feel today, we are followed and they are behind us.
“Around us there is a lot of passion and I would love this to continue.”
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