France gaining a 32-30 victory over Wales kept their Six Nations title hopes alive. It was a pulsating, absorbing, thrilling, match that kept those of us watching in a state at hypnosis as two teams produced their best in attack and defence for 80 minutes, and it is a result that should be highly significant for Fabien Galthie’s side.
In the short-term Brice Dulin’s late, late try means France picked up a victory to remain in contention for the Six Nations. They now face just the small matter of scoring four tries and finishing 21 points ahead of Scotland. The two will meet at the Stade de France in the rearranged round three match this Friday.
Longer-term it could be the first significant step that France has taken as they chase their major target – victory on home soil when they host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
How then did France, a team that had failed to score after the hour mark in three of their four matches, score 12 points in the final four minutes to turn the match and the Six Nations title on its head with a memorable victory?
Embed from Getty Images
Arise, King Charles
Charles Ollivon has only been France captain for a year. However, the way he led from the front against Wales was crucial to victory.
First, there was the way he played. Always happy to carry the ball and fling himself at the wall of red shirts, he finished the match with 49 metres from 14 carries. When the Welsh had the ball, he was first in line to stop them. He led the way for Les Bleus with 20 tackles over 80 minutes.
Later as the match became more fraught and France had a try chalked off and then Paul Willemse sent off. Ollivon didn’t push his luck with ref Luke Pearce. He replied with just a simple “are you sure” when the red card came out. He kept discussions to a minimum and concentrated on keeping his team focused on what they had to do.
As the clock ticked down he grew again. First came his try that put France three points behind. Then with time having passed the 80-minute mark Ollivon popped up three times in the move that finished with Dulin crossing in the corner.
Winning note right to the end
In the build-up to the match many, including LWOS, focused on the fact that France had only scored after the hour mark against Italy. Whereas Wales had continued to live up to their reputation as strong finishers. Most notably when scoring 16 points in the final quarter against England.
It looked to be going that way until Williemse’s red card in the 66th minute lit a fire under the French. Maybe it was a sense of injustice, maybe their pride was pricked. However, their intensity and focus were on point from then on. Even if scoring two tries and a conversion in the final four minutes was a slightly extreme way of proving a point.
Much is made of France’s lack of conditioning compared to other leading nations. The 14-team Top 14 is often held up as a reason. The shortened close season means there is barely any time for France’s players to get themselves back into shape before going back into the fray for club or country.
However, they will need to put together week to winning week performances if they want to triumph in 2023. Saturday’s win will help show them exactly what it takes to triumph when the pressure comes on.
Half-backs = Double Trouble
Half-backs being swapped out at some point in the final quarter is a familiar sight in modern rugby. There are precious few teams who could do so and know that the pair coming on is a match for those going off.
In the Six Nations, only Wales have similar strength on the bench as the starting 9 and 10.
So, when starting fly-half Matthieu Jalibert went off in the first half and was replaced by Romain Ntamack, Welsh players would have looked up and seen the man who ran them ragged in Cardiff last season coming on.
Scrum-half Antoine Dupont lasted till the 73rd minute. However, while his replacement Baptiste Serin may not have the instinctive, explosive elements that make Dupont so feared. He has the cool head and calm demeanour needed in such a tight match.
As the time ticked away both players got their passes on the money, to the right person and raised the tempo when necessary. Such depth in two key positions bodes well for 2023.
Embed from Getty Images
France Six Nations title requires 21 point margin
Anyone who has seen Braveheart knows that there has always been a strong alliance between Scotland and France. While the Auld Alliance signed in 1295 is more significant than Mel Gibson’s historically-dubious William Wallace biopic, such affable sentiments will have to be put aside on Friday. The hosts must win by 21 points and score a bonus point – all in the face of sustained pressure from the Scots.
Recent form bodes well for France as for the past five seasons victory has gone to the home side. However, neither of the victories came by more than the 21 points that Ollivon and co need at the Stade de France.
One player Scotland will be keeping an eye on is Gregory Alldritt, the Toulouse-born Number eight whose father grew up in Scotland from the age of 12 and whose brother plays in the Scottish leagues. He scored twice in the 27-10 win in Paris in 2019 and was outstanding against Wales. In the process, making 70m from 13 carries, with 18 tackles on top.
Further back Dulin and centre Virimi Vakatawa provide the rapier and the bludgeon. Albeit a bludgeon with soft, huge hands adept at finding his teammates with an out the back of the hand pass.
Dulin ran the most metres, 154m, with Vakatawa second with 125. Furthermore, they are part of a settled backline that is only likely to feature one change when Ntamack replaces Jalibert at fly-half.
A second consecutive victory in the championship finale would show France can win back-to-back matches. While that is the most likely outcome, it is still questionable that they will finish with the required 21 points difference they need to take this Six Nations title. Especially against a Scotland side who have enjoyed this year’s tournament.
They have received the boost of five of their English-based players being released to play. Scotland will desperately want to finish on a high of their own.
So it will be a contested climax to the Six Nations title, and Scotland might or might not be able to meet the challenge ahead. They might find an impervious France team standing their ground this Friday night.
2021 Six Nations finale: France v Scotland – Stade de France, Paris
“Main Photo Credits”
Embed from Getty Images