French inconsistency this 6 nations: France opened their 6 nations with a scrappy win at home to Italy due to a monstrous Plisson penalty coming in the last 5 minutes. Italy have had their poorest 6 nations in a while and have lost every game this year with thumping’s from just about everyone, well apart from France who narrowly beat them in the Stade de France by 2 points. That does not show a lot for France, who to be straight forward about it have been disjointed at best. If you ask rugby fans from all home nations what to expect from France? You might get the answers ‘what French side will turn up?’’ or ‘if France play an expansive style of play they can match anyone’ but this current France side does not even deserve those labels.
They have laboured to a win at home against a very poor Italian side, then the exact same to Ireland a week later who were injury hit to the max and only got that win due to a mesmerising display from the bench from Maxime Machenaud who now starts 9 consistently for France. Wales had a very average performance against France but still beat them by 9 points, a small positive was Trinch Duc came on from the bench and changed the game for France, it was too little too late from France though.
Then to keep in the title race with England, all France had to do was to get a result against Scotland away. No mean feat but with the talented backline France laid out with the likes of Fofana, Fickou, Machenaud, Spedding they were more than capable of getting a result especially when lead by Stalwart captain Guilhem Guirado which I think has been the best hooker in this year’s tournament. The first try coming from the captain Guirado was world class stuff from France but then they went back into their drivel shell with Trinch Duc missing his first two kicks.
If you know Trinch Duc as a player he is a confidence player, his confidence was not high after missing his first two kicks then France decide to switch kicker to Machenaud… this just smashed his confidence and had them on the back foot whether they did scored the first try of the game or not. France slumped to a 29-18 loss at Murrayfield handing the 6 nations with one game to spare to England. France are apparently playing with complete heads up rugby with not too much structure, there’s no problem with this in age grade rugby but full international test matches, you need more of a game plan than that.
I want to see Guy Noves do well as he is a legendary French coach with 4 European cups to his name but I feel his time was 10 years ago, the game has so much structure to it now it is important to have a game plan of some sort, without it, is just talented individuals trying to do too much without the necessary game management drilled into them. Against a much organised and well drilled Eddie Jones England team I can see it being more than a tough assignment for current France team.
England’s consistently good set piece: With the way Northern Hemisphere rugby is going especially in the six nations your strength of set piece is unbelievably important, I think the way Eddie Jones has focused on this since coming into his role as England head coach has been great. He has used words like ‘pride’ when talking about set piece and he wants England to pride themselves on being ruthless and unforgiving at their set piece. One area England have been exceptional in is the lineout, Steve Borthwick has been proclaimed by many as a ‘lineout guru’ from what we have seen from England so far you cannot argue with it.
Apart from England’s first half in Italy it has been outstanding and was a key factor in England’s Triple Crown win over Wales this past Saturday. Out of 14 lineouts England had 14 successful, adding to this England stole two lineouts thanks to a guy you should be betting as next England captain Maro Itoje. Crucial turnovers, lineout steals, assists for tries the guy has the lot and he’s only 21, very much a man of the match deserving performance. Following on from set piece the scrums will be a relatively even battle I think with all most certainly England’s Marler going to be out of the France match, after striking Rob Evans and calling Samson Lee “gypsy boy”.
Whether the inclusion of Mako Vunipola at loose head will benefit England at scrum time is to be seen, France have actually won every single scrum in their last 2 games when they have been putting in. Against Scotland that was one scrum, so you make what you want from that stat. The lineout of France has been consistent too with only one lost lineout in their last 2 matches, at this point you must been thinking why will England have dominance here then. England’s quality of ball from successful lineouts will be far cleaner than France’s plus with what England are actually going to do with it will be slicker, more precise and put England in winning areas.
It is two commodities having a good set piece and knowing what to do when you have a good set piece, England will far more use the latter to their advantage with the smart play Eddie Jones has drilled into them. French front row of Poirot, Guirado, Slimani is more than a useful front row which will test England come scrum time, then 20 minutes from the end they bring the 25 stone 6 ft 5 Mammoth Uini Atonio who is a tighthead prop. With that freak of nature coming off the bench England can be assured of physical battle up front with France but with just coming from playing Wales, England will be more than equipped to handle the physical challenge.
Finally a nice head to head battle to watch out for will be Dylan Hartley against his opposite man Guilhem Guirado, both specialist hookers and in my opinion the two finest in Europe with the upcoming Jamie George, recently ruled out of England’s final two games with a bicep injury. The match will come down to execution under pressure which England have in abundance with Owen Farrell kicking for them while France switch kickers mid game due to Trinch Duc missing his first two, for me this causes unease of who actually has the kicking responsibilities in the French side.
Eddie Jones will be devising a plan especially for France who have been like a yoyo this 6 nation’s performance wise, up and down, up and down, with 2 wins and 2 losses that metaphor is not far from the truth. England now have a go to in their superb lineout and evermore improving scrum which was missing in the past regime, this mixed with real flare and talent that England have in the likes of Watson, Nowell, Joseph, Brown plus the returning Tuilagi and Danny Care to bring off the bench I cannot see them losing to this French team.
France for the past four six nations have lost real identity in what they’re about. To still be in the position of trying to find that performance and what they’re about against a well-functioning England team will put them on the losing side of the score line for me. Yes I predict a first England Grand slam in 13 years and it will be their 13th Grand slam if won.
By Cameron Petrie