Carla Arbez, Morgane Bourgeois gamble paying off for France

Les Bleues fly-half Carla Arbez and full-back Morgane Bourgeois have passed their entrance exam into the France women's team in style.

Is there ever a good time to throw uncapped players into the international fray? Is it a particularly risky gamble to do so in a Women's Six Nations tournament?

The coaching duo of the France women's team – Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz – didn't think too much about it. Recently appointed to their positions, they had to put a team in place very quickly to start their first Championship campaign and launch a new cycle that will lead them to Rugby World Cup 2025 in England.

They were audacious in reshuffling the cards and selecting two young players in key positions in the French attack: fly-half Carla Arbez, 23, to replace Caroline Drouin – who committed to play in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series – and full-back-cum-fly-half Morgane Bourgeois, just 20, in place of Emilie Boulard.

Arbez made her debut during the 22-12 win in Italy and Bourgeois during the 53-3 defeat of Ireland a week later, becoming respectively the 395th and 399th players to represent Les Bleues.

Both are team-mates in Bordeaux – currently top of the Elite 1 championship – and they could end up sharing the number 10 jersey for their country.

Arbez was trained at Oléron Rugby Club from the age of seven and has never done anything else, while Bourgeois was introduced to the game in Parempuyre (Gironde), in the academy created by her father.

Even if rugby was her first choice, Bourgeois decided to put it aside for a few years to play football with the Girondines before abandoning the round ball to return to the oval one – she was 10 or 11 years old at the time – and she has not stopped excelling since.

Players who have been on the radar for a while

"Carla is a player we've been following in the championship for a few months," explained David Ortiz before the trip to Ireland.

"She is a player who has matured a lot recently with her Bordeaux club and who seemed ready to be thrown into the deep end. [The opening match] was not an easy game for her because we always know that matches in Italy are tough despite everything.

"But we feel that she was able to distribute and alternate the game rather well and use her hand and foot fairly well. Because her performance was quite positive, we wanted to keep going with her."

During the Women's Six Nations, Arbez has played 107 minutes in two appearances compared to Bourgeois' 80 minutes in one cap. Both have been included in the 36-strong squad for the rest of the tournament, including the next match against Scotland at the Stade de la Rabine in Vannes on 16 April.

"It's always difficult to perform well in the championship with your club, and then put in the same performance on the international stage," says Laura Di Muzio, a women's rugby commentator on France Télévisions.

"And really, for a first selection, especially against Italy, I think she [Arbez] played a great game. And moreover, without overplaying, she remained calm, she stayed in her role of fly-half in the first half, with a very good management with the wind against her, [showcasing] a footwork which for me is very promising.

"You can feel that there is a length, that there is a technical ease. I'm waiting, I'm looking forward to it and I hope she'll be a starter in the next games to see her evolve, to see her grow."

Bourgeois switches to U20s

After her full match in Ireland on 1 April, Morgane Bourgeois did not have the break imposed by the tournament schedule and instead went on to play for France U20 in England on 8 April.

She joined Elisa Riffonneau, who also won her first cap in Ireland (becoming the 400th French international), for a 35-17 victory. A third consecutive win for her in the fixture.

A few years ago, 'Momo' Bourgeois was identified as a 'high potential' player by the French rugby federation and had time to shine with the U20s, captaining them in her first season (2021-2022), before being part of the Rugby World Cup 2021 training squad in the summer of 2022, but not going to New Zealand.

She compensated for this by going to Dubai with the France Sevens Development squad to seek top-level experience in the women's International Invitation tournament at The Sevens Stadium, where the team finished in fifth place. "A disappointing result," Bourgeois said at the time.

That disappointment would only have lasted a matter of days, until she started on her journey with the senior French women's 15s team.

The timing of her elevation only confirmed the audacious selections made by Mignot and Ortiz.

"Yes, it may seem risky. But in fact, for me, it was the right time to [play Bourgeois] because it was Ireland," says Laura Di Muzio.

"It's a game that was clearly within our reach and that's how you launch the younger players. If you send them out against England with a lot of pressure, they are not in the best conditions. This is the best way to start. Like the week before for Arbez, this was [a chance for] Bourgeois.

"It was the right way for her to get into the deep end. She did very well, a little less comfortable technically (two-from-five in front of the posts). There were a few small mistakes on passes or catches. But generally speaking, for a first match at barely 20 years old, she gave a decent performance.”

(Photo: France Rugby / Julien Poupart)

Last updated: Apr 11, 2023, 2:56:49 PM
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