The definition of a Grand Slam in Rugby Union is commonly relative to the Six Nations (formerly, Five Nations) tournament. The annual competition between the home unions would grade a successful competition on an unbeaten year – the Grand Slam.
For some, the classic image is one of an English, Irish, French, Scottish or Welsh captain being held-up as champion (see below).
While that achievement is the most common association, touring sides from the Southern Hemisphere, who play all of the home nations, also consider an unbeaten tour to be a Grand Slam. Australia are two games into their five game tour, and have claimed a pair of valuable wins. So, is an elusive Grand Slam Within Reach for Australian Rugby?
Two out of Five So Far
The Michael Cheika coached Wallabies have not had a successful 2016 to date. Beaten, and beaten well by New Zealand, they can resurrect a poor calendar year with a Grand Slam – the first since 1984 – and that could include a win over England.
Back in June, England traveled to Australia carrying with them a broom. They swept aside the home team, winning 0-3 and creating history which Cheika and his players would love to avenge (in two weeks time). Not an easy task, but after claiming wins over Wales and Scotland, they have ‘two out of five’ so far.
The reality is, that involved one difficult game, and a ‘get out of jail’ victory over Scotland. Captain Stephen Moore and his side will be pleased, but they know that less than 50% of their goal is completed. The group will all be determined to leave France on Sunday with another victory.
France v Australia – Stade de France, Paris. November 19
Heading across the English Channel to face Guy Novès french team, the 80,000 fans in attendance will make this one of the bigger clashes on tour. In terms of tension, it is way up there with the Wellington test match on August 29. While not the All Blacks, France at home must be respected.
A better team culture, after Philippe Saint-André vacated the role, players have been given time to establish themselves. Most have done so, even though a poor finish in the Six Nations saw them score a poultry 82 points in five games. The side is still to show promise, but the signs were good last weekend.
Camille Lopez has been named in the squad ahead of François Trinh-Duc, injured in the last test. That significant change could be a revelation–or a hindrance. The Clermont flyhalf has not been a familiar choice for Novès, so this is a vote of confidence.
Among five changes for the test match, the one area where France are still a force, is in the scrum department. The weapon which the team revert to often, and Australia will be weary of that. Undone very often this season at scrumtime, Cheika will want his men to avoid errors in this area, as much as the back of the scrum menace of Louis Picamoles.
Young Australian players taking their opportunities
Dane Haylett-Petty is one player confident that the side is enjoying the chance to show their skill set. The wing is enjoying his opportunities, as is Reece Hodge. Two of the ‘new breed’ who have taken the places of centurions Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau.
“The boys are preparing well and looking forward to the next challenge.”
Having experience a modicum of success, Haylett-Petty, Hodge and the other members of the touring squad can take on this challenge with both hands. The only disappointment has been the tour-ending injury to Adam Coleman [knee].
Mind you, all the ‘positive thinking’ will not result in a win. It will not ensure a Grand Slam is still within reach for Australian Rugby, as they will head to Dublin. No, the players will have to work for it. Earn it. And Michael Cheika knows the challenge is real.
Michael Cheika is ready for a massive French challenge. #FRAvAUS #StrongerAsOne pic.twitter.com/tM1sYqbVwu
— Qantas Wallabies (@qantaswallabies) November 15, 2016
From the result, many truths will be told. Namely: is France a force in the upcoming Six Nations? Has Australia hold the ability to retain their composure with a ‘big prize’ on the line?
France Unable to Fully Display it’s Credentials
There is something about France; an intangible quality. They run either ‘hot or cold’ as shown by the 52-8 victory over Samoa. While not a premier test nation, Samoa had a group capable of upsetting the best, but were more likely not motivated enough. And that can be true of France themselves.
In the Six Nations, they have claimed their own Le Grand Chelem (Grand Slam) on nine occasions. The last being in 2010, but there is little to suggest that 2016/17 will be anything like that. They show no clear signs of developing any credentials to rival England, Ireland or Wales, let alone Scotland who finished higher than them earlier in 2016.
But after Saturday, they could be known as the ‘Australian Grand Slam Killers’ and that could put a smile of French rugby fans. Not in a vindictive way, as if they earn the victory, then the spoils will be theirs. That is sport. Sacre Bleu.
Australia Can Make Great Strides Through Victory
Moments in sport can define a season. Last week, Tevita Kuridrani stretched his arm out to remove that dream from Scotland’s hands. It was a last minute win, and was a tour-saver, because a loss would have virtually ended much of the home country support. After Scotland, that support is still real.
Great strides have been made, from June to November. It may have seen just three wins out of the ten matches prior to the tours start, but that can be corrected. Win on Saturday, defeat the French at home, and it will turn in the Wallabies favour. Three out of five will be the headline, and smiles will be wide on players and coaches faces [something the coach really must display more often].
On the flip-side, a loss will erase those advances made in the last fortnight. If Guy Novès can see his men grind out a hard fought victory, the papers will celebrate. Especially on the anniversary of the terrible Paris terrorist attacks 12 months ago–emotion will play a large part on Saturday night. The french team will be hard to beat, no doubting that.
So yes, a Grand Slam is still within reach. It is still a topic of conversation, or a subject that the Australians cannot easily dismiss; while inwardly coveting. Not since 1984 (main photo) have they managed wins against all four home nations. Back then, Alan Jones took the side to great heights. David Campese, Mark Ella (pictured), Simon Poidevin and others did their country proud.
On this tour, they can still win against the fame home nations; include France and you have the elusive Grand Slam–clean sweep. Do that, and the welcome mat will be laid out back in Australia. And deservedly so.
“Main photo credit”