Rugby Union's Top 10: The best players for France over the years
The sixth of our Rugby Union Top 10 series, as we look at France's greatest performers
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 15/05/20 4:09pm
The sixth instalment of our Rugby Union Top 10 series, as we take a look at 10 of France's greatest performers.
Keep an eye out over the next few weeks as we look at 10 of the best players from the 10 leading rugby-playing nations in the world: England, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, Wales, Australia, Scotland, Argentina, France and Italy.
- Rugby Union's Top 10: England's best
- Rugby Union's Top 10: New Zealand's best
- Rugby Union's Top 10: Australia's best
- Rugby Union's Top 10: Ireland's best
- Rugby Union's Top 10: Wales' best
Next up it's France - in no particular order..
Thierry Dusautoir (2006-2015)
The flanker was a wonderful performer for Les Bleus, and earned 80 caps for France during his international career.
He was captain for a record 56 Tests, leading France to a landmark victory over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil in 2009 and to a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2010. He is also one of two France captains in history to have led his country to victories over New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
At club level, Dusautoir became a French league champion with Biarritz in 2006, winning the league three more times with Toulouse in 2008, 2011 and 2012, and led Toulouse to a European Cup title in 2010.
Perhaps the two standout days in Dusautoir's career came against the All Blacks. In a 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final, the back-row scored a try and made an astonishing 38 tackles - still a Test record - as France knocked out the pre-tournament favourites 20-18 in a monumental shock. His tackle tally was two more than the entire All Blacks team combined.
And in 2011, Dusautoir led France as skipper as they recovered from an embarrassing pool stage defeat to Tonga to go on and reach the World Cup final, facing the All Blacks on Kiwi soil. France would lose a controversial final 8-7, with Dusautoir scoring a try and claiming the man of the match award, despite defeat.
He was named World Player of the Year in that same year.
Serge Blanco (1980-1991)
France's record try scorer of all-time with 38, stylish full-back Blanco was one of the greats to play the sport, regardless of nation.
He featured 93 times for France during the course of his career, clinching Five Nations Grand Slams in 1981 and 1987, while he captained France at the 1991 World Cup.
He also scored the match-winning try to dump out favourites Australia in the semi-finals of the first-ever World Cup in 1987.
A one-club man, he spent his whole career with Biarritz between 1974 and 1992. A magic runner and counter-attacking player, Blanco is regularly picked in World XV's of all time.
Jean-Pierre Rives (1975-1984)
A back-row with a shock of blond hair, Rives is considered a cult hero in France for his battling performances and qualities over his 59 Test caps - 34 of which came as captain.
He clinched Five Nations Grand Slams with France in 1977 and 1981, as well as a further championship title in 1983, while he also skippered the first ever France side to defeat the All Blacks.
He became a renowned painter and artist upon retirement, with his work exhibited around the globe.
Fabien Pelous (1995-2007)
A mountain of a second row, Pelous still holds the record as the most capped Frenchman of all time, having played for Les Bleus in 118 Tests.
He was captain for 42 of those matches, a total only bettered by Dusautoir in history.
Uncompromising, physical and tactically astute, Pelous' career was trophy-laden, as he experienced Six Nations Grand Slam successes in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2004 - the latter as captain - as well as a further title in 2006.
Pelous was also the first France captain in history, and still one of just two alongside Dusautoir, to have led Les Bleus to victories over each of New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
At club level, he spent 12 of his 18-year professional career with hometown club Toulouse, winning two European Cup titles in 2003 and 2005, as well as three French league titles in 1999, 2001 and 2008.
Philippe Sella (1982-1995)
Before Pelous, it was centre Sella who held the appearance record for France, having played 111 times for his country before retirement - and that during a time when such a tally of caps was near unheard of.
A wonderfully creative midfielder, who also had a keen appetite for defence, Sella was one of only five players ever to have scored a try in each Test of a Five Nations championship.
He was described by former France coach Jacques Fouroux as having "the strength of a bull but the touch of a piano player", and would play for France in three World Cups, finishing as runners-up in 1987 and in third-place in 1995.
Sella was part of three Five Nations title wins outright in his career: 1987 as a Grand Slam, 1989 and 1993, while he picked up a further three shared titles with France in 1983, 1986 and 1988.
At club level, Sella won France league titles with Agen in 1982 and 1988, before switching to Saracens in 1996, where alongside Michael Lynagh he set the club on their way to becoming successful.
Serge Betsen (1997-2007)
Nicknamed la Faucheuse, translated as 'the Grim Reaper', back-row Betsen was one of the toughest players to have played the sport.
But for injuries due to his enormously physical style of play, Betsen would have recorded more than the 63 caps he gleaned from his decade on the Test scene.
The highlight of Betsen's career perhaps came in 2002, when faced against a superb England side who would go on to win the World Cup a year later, he shut down Jonny Wilkinson to such an extent that the playmaker was substituted as France won 20-15.
With that, Les Bleus would go on to win the Grand Slam that year, as England head coach Clive Woodward later remarked: "He is the only player that I can say was the single-handed reason we lost a match."
In 2006 he picked up a French league title with Biarritz, before he saw out the latter years of his career in England with Wasps.
Philippe Saint-Andre (1990-1997)
The wing picked up 69 caps for France during the course of his seven-year Test career, captaining the side in 34 of those.
Saint-Andre featured for France as they defeated Australia on Aussie soil in 1990 - their first win over the Wallabies Down Under since 1972 - as well as Les Bleus' 1993 Five Nations title victory. He also led France to a third-placed finish as captain at the 1995 World Cup.
As skipper, he also led France to a 2-0 series success over New Zealand in 1994 - an exceptional achievement which has him as one of only five men ever to have done this.
During the second Test of that historic tour, with France trailing 20-16 late on, Saint-Andre began a counter-attack from inside his own 22, slaloming through to begin a move which resulted in a stunning try for Jean-Luc Sadourny.
After the game, Saint-Andre referred to it as: "a counter-attack from the end of the world", leading to the score being famously termed the "try from the end of the world".
Yannick Jauzion (2001-2011)
The ideal combination of size, pace and flair, France centre Jauzion was a classy player who quite often proved a joy to watch over his 73 Test caps.
Having broken into the France side in 2001, he missed out on their 2002 Grand Slam success, but a move to Toulouse saw him pick up the first of three European Cup triumphs in 2003, as well as seal a place to the 2003 World Cup.
Thereafter, he was a part of France's 2004 Grand Slam, 2007 championship title and 2010 Grand Slam. His two further European Cup titles arrived in 2005 - where he was man of the match in the final - and in 2010.
He retired having won three French league titles to sit alongside his three Heineken Cup successes.
Raphael Ibanez (1995-2007)
Only two men have played for France more in history than hooker Ibanez - Pelous and Sella - with his 98 caps a marvellous total, and one the former skipper would have breezed past had he not initially retired between 2003 and 2005.
Ibanez was captain for 42 of those 98 caps, leading his country into the 1999 World Cup as skipper, as they pulled off one of the greatest comebacks and shocks of all-time to dump out the All Blacks in the semi-finals and reach the final, where they lost to Australia.
Having been a part of France's run to the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup, Ibanez retired before being coaxed back into the Test fold by Bernard Laporte in November 2005. After which he would go on to lead France as captain in their victorious 2007 Six Nations campaign and at the 2007 World Cup.
As well as that 2007 title, Ibanez also achieved Grand Slam title wins with France in 1998 and 2002, as well as a further championship title in 2006.
At club level he became a European Cup winner with Wasps in 2007, as he scored one try and created another courtesy of two inventive lineout moves down the short-side. He also picked up a Premiership winners medal the following year in 2008.
Vincent Clerc (2002-2013)
In the history of France rugby, only Blanco has scored more Test tries than Clerc (32) for Les Bleus - with the latter just two tries short of the legendary full-back but having played some 26 games less (67 caps).
The wing developed into one of the deadliest finishers in world rugby through his career, which saw him pick up three Six Nations titles in 2004, 2006 and 2007, as well as a trio of European Cup titles with Toulouse in 2003, 2005 and 2010.
He also picked up a French league title with Toulouse back in 2008.