It’s just a little more than 18 months until the Rugby World Cup, and the immediate goal for French rugby is right on track. The 2022 Les Bleus Six Nations squad’s Grand Slam dream continues.
No dream now is one honest assessment. It seems like the right combination of development and good planning. Yes, they were upset at the same point in 2021, yet to be on the same track two years running is proof of their composure. That takes an entire squad’s input, with the right questions and answers being displayed against Wales on Friday night.
Not since 2010 has France claimed a Grand Slam – it has been dominated by either England, Ireland, or the team that this 2022 Les Bleus squad defeated, Wales. And to hold ‘the Slam’ is now close to reality for the Fabien Galthie coached side. Having said that, you cannot state the obvious without bringing punditry into the matter, and Last Word on Rugby does not have the odds in mind. It is made from evidence over the four rounds of the Championship.
Les Bleus s’imposent (9-13)
face au Pays de Galles 🏴 dans un match haletant et serré 💪 #GALFRA
— le coq sportif (@lecoqsportif) March 11, 2022
One win away now, and what would be a huge statement of intent looking down the track to the Rugby World Cup 2023 tournament.
Grand Slam dream continues for 2022 Les Bleus Six Nations squad
Result aside, the demonstration of strangling defence is an element that was the cause of this result. That effect was to remove the threat of a Welsh barrage breaking through. Even the late addition of Louis Rees-Zammit could not divide their defensive systems. Ones built over a few campaigns that is, so they should be feeling relieved as well as being proud of their output.
Statistics are on the French side too. In the ones that count here; [Wales/France] Clean breaks 1/4; Defenders beaten 8/12; Offloads 6/10; Penalties 9/8. First half possession and territorial advantage helped establish the 9-12 lead that did not change over the remaining quarter. Wales seemed to be dominating possession and were ‘living in the French half’ yet it was just not effective use of the ball, and counted for nothing against the Shaun Edwards managed backline.
So while the opening of the game was better than their closing, France will feel men are showing form at the right end of the campaign. Melvyn Jaminet played a big hand in the only try of the game, that rewarded Anthony Jelonch. His big smile was justified, however, the concerned faces up in the coach’s box in the final 20-25 minutes did pose questions on how strongly Antoine Dupont; and especially Romain Ntamack’s control of the game?
After each match, answers to the popular suspicion that ‘France will revert to formula’ at some stage, and self implode. That has not occurred to date. It did not occur in the Autumn Internationals, and apart from the devastating loss in 2022 to their opponents Wales, the 2022 Les Bleus squad showed they can stay consistent. Might there be any more underlying issues? Yes, and they will be dissected by media through this week.
When looking at the French forwards, only Gregory Alldritt, Julien Marchand, and Jelonch had an influence on meters gained. Why the other 2022 Les Bleus forwards all contributed a combined 31 meters over 80-minutes might come into question. A notable failing was that few French substitutes added less real value required from the bench. It was fortunate that the best Welsh try-opportunity to center Jonathon Davies was lost. His fumble with the line approaching devalued the positive outbreak from a sharp Biggar crossfield kick to Faletau.
And ‘lost opportunities’ would be a pertinent statistic that many would highlight for both the host and visiting team to analyze. If that one scoring action had been completed, then the final 10 minutes might have seen a slim Welsh lead under extreme pressure. How the 2022 Les Bleus might have reacted is unquantifiable. Might they have proved impotent to score? That ‘pressure position’ is what could answer those remaining questions over France this season.
England will visit Paris with ‘permit to play’
Losing to Ireland, England is not in the same position as their victors. Slipping down the standings since their opening loss to Wales, it now only remains for the men in white to visit Paris and make an attempt to stun the hosts. It is not beyond the bounds of reality, so France will no doubt have made celebrations short and sweet. Because if ever the example of going to a final match with high expectations, then the 2021 squad can be the form not to follow.
This 2022 Les Bleus squad must play ‘their own game’ on March 19. Not be dissuaded from their own style that has been successful over the first four rounds of the Six Nations. Not revert to a defensive mindset, as England will surely have a permit to play. They cannot claim the title yet they can be party-poopers for French fans. They could attack at any cost, hoping to run the top placed side around the park – at times in Cardiff, Les Bleus players were blowing hard. Expect Eddie Jones to have picked up on that, and other elements of the French game.
Yes, England will take a carte blanche attitude with them to Paris although, it must still be controlled. Aggression will always be used in rugby union, yet the use and technique required to play 80 full minutes with your full complement of players is a MUST in each test match. You cannot lose anyone, especially when all the silverware is on the line. Unlike this weekend, England needs to show control in all areas of their game to deny France a grand slam.
From the rest day, right through training and their final 6 Nations’ captains run, the group who lost at home need to pick themselves up, front up to the inadequacies from Saturday’s match – improve on the positives, and the heart shown. That was on display and greatly welcomed by all stakeholders, and those values will be used in Paris against the champions-elect.
The hosts are in a must-win but, this one game they are most eager to manage the risk. Play within themselves while knowing that each opportunity needs to be taken for the final win which will see this 2022 Les Bleus group crowned Six Nations champions. A big weight to bear it is just one the developing side may well be adequately prepared [now] to take the pressure in their stride.
Guinness Six Nations Round 5: Wales v Italy | Ireland v Scotland | France v England
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