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How fickle France became formidable again

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Bryn Palmer | 06:05 UK time, Friday, 19 March 2010

At the risk of appearing smug, I tipped France to win the Six Nations before it started.

Not with any great conviction, mind. The Tricolores didn't get their reputation for flitting between awesome and awful for nothing.

But over the last six weeks, the impression has grown that one of the great rugby countries of the world has got its act together in a big way.

So how have the notoriously flighty French suddenly become synonymous with set-piece solidity, defensive discipline and tactical mastery, to the point where their first Grand Slam since 2004 appears, if not a fait accompli, then more than probable?

I counselled the opinion of former captain Raphael Ibanez, the last Frenchman to lift the Six Nations trophy aloft in 2007, and spoke to Dave Ellis, the Yorkshireman who has been the defence coach in the France set-up for the last 10 years.

For Ibanez, a change in management philosophy, and a more consistent approach to selection, have been key components.

"For the last two years they were talking about developing players and helping them to play at international level," he notes. "To be honest I didn't really agree with that kind of philosophy. When you are playing Test matches, it is all about winning. But after two years of experimenting, they are sticking roughly with the same group of players and now they talk a lot about winning as the main goal."

France coach Marc Lievremont addresses the media before Saturday's clash with England.jpgFrance coach Marc Lievremont has won over the detractors that questioned his selection policy

Certainly head coach Marc Lievremont has reined in his 'tinkerman' tendencies this season. He used 58 players in his first year - 2008 - and 84 in all by the end of his second.

For the record, Lievremont has used 30 players in this Six Nations campaign. It would have been fewer, but Aurelien Rougerie, Benjamin Fall, Vincent Clerc, Pascal Pape, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Sylvain Marconnet have all succumbed to injury.

Of those 30, 10 will have started all five matches, with five more featuring in every 22.

These include half-a-dozen players - full-back Clement Poitrenaud, centre Yannick Jauzion, hooker William Servat, prop Nicolas Mas, lock Lionel Nallet and number eight Imanol Harinordoquy - whose best days at Test level appeared behind them.

They are now firmly re-established as the spine of the team, alongside new prop Thomas Domingo, captain Thierry Dusautoir and half-backs Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc.

"Lievremont gave a chance to so many players that it was only natural to have some doubts about which direction he was going," says Ibanez. "But now he has got the rewards by having such depth in his squad. It is pretty impressive.

"They had so many injuries at the start of the Six Nations and you barely noticed it. The players who have come into the team have the same quality and that is key to success."

While the outstanding Harinordoquy is favourite to win the Player of the Tournament award, Parra (21) and Trinh-Duc (23) have grown in stature with every outing.

Number eight Imanol Harinordoquy launches a France attack with scrum-half Morgan Parra in support.jpgNumber eight Imanol Harinordoquy and scrum-half Morgan Parra have been key figures in France's success

Blooded in Lievremont's first game in charge at Murrayfield in 2008, both suffered from inconsistency and inexperience in their first season, but Trinh-Duc has started 12 out of France's last 13 Tests and Parra eight successive Six Nations games.

"They are the linch-pin - la charniere - of the team," says Ibanez. "Historically if the nine and 10 stay together for more than one game that is a miracle for the French team. But now they have the confidence of the coach and can express themselves in every game. There is still room for improvement but they both give this team a real intelligence on the tactical side."

At the heart of it is France's new petit general Parra, perhaps the most influential player of this entire Six Nations, and who might not have started if Julien Dupuy - preferred for the major Tests last summer and autumn - had not received a six-month ban for eye-gouging before Christmas.

"I can sit down and have a conversation with Morgan about the intricacies of his role, and it is like you are talking to an old stager," Ellis enthuses. "He has got his own ideas too and it is the same with Trinh-Duc. They have a lot of input into the team and to a certain extent they control what goes on, off the field as well.

"A lot of people thought they were extravagant choices but the coaches had worked with them at age-group level and they were choices for the future. It was a hell of a shock for them going from club rugby into the Test arena. But because of the courage of the coaches to make that decision, two years down the track they are playing like a couple of old pros who have been around for years."

With the emergence of other youngsters such as forwards Thomas Domingo (24), Ouedraogo (23) and Alexandre Lapandry (20), and backs like Mathieu Bastareaud (21), Maxime Mermoz (23), Fall (21), Marc Andreu (24) and Alexis Palisson (22), no wonder Ellis rates the current French crop the best he has been involved with.

Remember the likes of prop Fabien Barcella, scrum-half Dupuy, full-back Maxime Medard, centre Maxime Mermoz and number eight Louis Picamoles haven't played in this Six Nations for varying reasons, but should all be in the mix for World Cup places.

The input of Ellis to France's success cannot be under-estimated. Tricolores teams are not noted for their defensive resolve, but this side - 20 minutes against Wales apart - has comfortably dealt with what their four opponents to date have thrown at them.

Last year France were the second highest try-scorers with 14 behind England (16), but conceded 11, with only Italy shipping more.

This year the French have been equally potent (13 tries to date, with one game left), but conceded just five, the joint lowest alongside Ireland.

Ellis gives an intriguing insight into the tactics they have employed in each game. "Against Scotland we had to stop them off-loading and getting width on the ball so we blitzed up...we couldn't afford to do that against Ireland because of the quality of O'Driscoll and the way they step back inside, so we played a lot more of a flat-line defence...we knew if we were patient Wales would play themselves into a hole..."

Instead of employing a simple 'blitz' or 'drift' defence, Ellis says his charges can now adapt their formation and tactics according to the opposition and the state of the game.

"The players are quite comfortable with playing what they see in front of them in attack," he explains. "But we have turned the key around and said 'defend what you see in front of you as well. Let's have a proactive defence instead of a reactive one'.

"It is difficult to do at club level where you tend to have just one system. But why do you need just one if the players are clever enough to adapt? It is something I have wanted to try for a while at international level.

"We played about with it a bit last year and a few had their doubts. But fortunately they have picked it up and now we are seeing the benefits. The squad hasn't changed a great deal over the five games, so that gives you a lot more time to work on things."

But is not all about defence, scrummaging power and a solid, if not infallible, line-out.

"Another important change is that they have really liberated the players in their attacking ambition," Ibanez notes. "For the last two years the game they were playing was not totally realistic, but this year they have found their equilibrium, the right balance between the attacking side and the fundamentals of the game. They have shown pragmatism."

Pragmatism? The French? Whatever next? Humility, apparently.

Lest anyone gets the impression France consider a ninth Grand Chelem (and third of the Six Nations era) a formality, Ellis is quick to recall the events of 14 March 2009, a date he believes will be looked upon as a defining one for this team.

France were humiliated 34-10 at Twickenham , nine days after beating defending champions Wales in Paris to much acclaim.

"There were some seasoned players that haven't played since, and some of the younger players got taught a lesson that day," Ellis notes. "It is a bit like an unsmoked cigarette that you leave behind your ear and remember it when you need it. That is what we have done with that game."

The clear inference is that France have moved on from that horror show in south-west London.

A Gallic Grand Slam in the Stade de France should be the next logical step for a side that won in New Zealand last summer and beat the Springboks at home in the autumn.

"The atmosphere is quite calm," Ellis adds. "We have just knocked off one game at a time. Winning our third game in a row (against Wales in Cardiff) was quite a big one as we hadn't done that before with this group, but it was just another stepping stone.

"This is just not overnight success. It has been coming for a while."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks for that: I've been hoping for an intelligent appraisal of France's little "firming-up" miracle.

    Don't you think (as I do) that these "miracles" often depend on and bring about smaller miracles? I'll try to explain. Personally, I think that the French back row as it is now is actually much stronger than the preferred one, thanks to injury, and in other positions injury actually created the opportunity for new talent to come through.

    There was a time when it was like that for England: think of the spate of injuries at scrum-half that pitched Kyran Bracken into the limelight. But that was then...

    To underscore your confidence in France, I suggest that they're going to stay strong for a few seasons to come, having found and blooded the core of l'equipe.

  • Comment number 2.

    This French side has swept all before them. Some folks have niggled about the last pair of grand slam winners, in particular the way they have crept past many teams and not won with panache and something to spare. Personally I think this is harsh on to win 5 games in a short space of time is a real triumph. However, I don't think many will begrudge this French team winning a grand slam.

    Since the 2007 world cup, I have been worried about the state of NH rugby. On that glorious saturday of the quarter finals, I fully expected all NH sides to have been eliminated, but then England and France pulled off some amazing wins which put a gloss on things. For the first time since then, I think we have a side in the NH who are at the level of the SH sides, not just winning the odd game in an AI but truly being competitive at all times and challenging for top honours. I hope they go from strength to strength and pull the rest of NH rugby up a notch or two with them.

  • Comment number 3.

    Without doubt France is the NH's only hope at the World Cup. The parallels between this French team and England 8 years ago are rather frightening. The mix of youth and experience, the old hands providing the backbone of the team, the steadily increasing winning habit. I don't delude myself that it will help any of the Home Nations to be competitive if France win the World Cup - that hope was surely squashed post-2003. Nevertheless, I'd rather see the French win than any of the Tri-Nations.

    Regarding Saturday's match, try as I might, I can't find it in my heart to wish for an England win, which would simply paper over the cracks. In fact, I'd rather see a humiliating defeat if it leads to a change at the top, or at least to a bit more honesty from the incumbents. It's not a good time to be an England fan.

  • Comment number 4.

    A great blog, Bryn. It really highlights France's change in fortunes in recent years, and I think that, as well as the emerging talent of players such as Parra and Dusautoir, both of which have been in imperious form this tournament and, indeed, this season, a lot of it has to come down to the mastery of Marc Lièvremont. Although there were many discontented voices around the country with regards to his constant chopping and changing of players, it was with good reason, because it's clear that he did it very much with a plan in mind, which was to find the best combination of players for his squads. Admittedly, some of this was down to a few chance injuries, but as a result of this, it means that he has a lot of already capped players, and therefore a lot of already experienced players, at his disposal, which accentuates the real strength in depth that French rugby has been blessed with over the past few years. The impact of Lièvremont is something that I think we were all hoping for from Martin Johnson when he stepped into the England hotseat, but alas, no such luck!

    I echo what Christophe's saying as well - it's a very promising prospect for the Northern Hemisphere as well to have a side who can realistically compete for next year's World Cup. Given England and Wales' current lack of form/consistency, Scotland's bad luck, Italy's lack of depth and Ireland's recent performances in World Cups, I think it's fair to say that France, who also have a very good reputation in said competitions, can carry the hopes of the NH through the tournament. They don't necessarily have an easy group (NZ are always a scary prospect, Canada could cause an upset), but it is a group full of teams that they can beat, and have recently done so as well. I really fancy their chances, and I can safely say that, as an Englishman living in France at the moment, I'll be keeping my eye on the French as well as England.

    I really hope that France's performances will give the NH sides something to think about and that it contributes to a positive progression in NH rugby.

  • Comment number 5.

    Very well reasoned and informative article and just shows that patience in the managerial team can pay off. It would have been easy for France to make a knee jerk reaction to poor results and huge player turnaround in those first two seasonns.

    Do you think there are any parralels to be drawn between what Martin Johnson's is trying to build and what Marc Lievremont has achieved in his three seasons to date? Given that the breadth of talent seems more abundant in France at the present time and it has taken three seasons to establish a settled and successful side, a change in England Management again would surely just put us back to square one.



  • Comment number 6.

    Dave Ellis re last seasons's French defeat to England:
    "There were some seasoned players that haven't played since, and some of the younger players got taught a lesson that day,"
    Now look at the French team that day;
    Medard, Malzieu, Bastareaud, Jauzion, Heymans, Trinh-Duc, Parra, Faure, Szarzewski, Marconnet, Nallet, Thion, Dusautoir, Chabal, Harinordoquy.
    Replacements: Fritz for Bastareaud (46), Traille for Trinh-Duc (46), Tillous-Borde for Parra (59), Domingo for Faure (51), Kayser for Szarzewski (59), Bonnaire for Thion (46), Picamoles for Harinordoquy (68).
    Meanwhile, here's the French team for Sat;
    Clement Poitrenaud; Marc Andreu, Mathieu Bastareaud, Yannick Jauzion, Alexis Palisson; Francois Trinh-Duc, Morgan Parra; Thomas Domingo, William Servat, Nicolas Mas, Lionel Nallet, Julien Pierre, Thierry Dusautoir, Julien Bonnaire, Imanol Harinordoquy.
    Replacements: Dimitri Szarzewski, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Sebastien Chabal, Alexandre Lapandry, Dimitri Yachvili, David Marty, Julien Malzieu.
    I've always thought Ellis talked a load of rubbish, this confirms it.
    Which players does he mean exactly?

  • Comment number 7.

    "At the risk of appearing smug, I tipped France to win the Six Nations before it started."

    To be honest, it was hardly a risky prediction to make as France have won the title after the last 3 Lions' tours. Well, 4 come Saturday night.

  • Comment number 8.

    iknowsitnow-

    I dont know what you mean-the team from last year as you point out had 9 players in the 22 who are not featuring in this year's game. they are: Medard, Heymans, Faure, Thion, Fritz, Traille, Tillous-Borde, Kayser and Picamoles.

    So Elllis is right in saying that is in fact quite a change isnt it?

  • Comment number 9.

    Once again, nations like France and (to a degree) Australia are coming to form in time to scupper the 'mighty' All Blacks' Web Ellis chase.

    They do seem to time it well!

  • Comment number 10.

    Great blog Bryan. We can be smug together for our fantastic insight! And France this year sums up what I've been saying for years, change is good and young/new playes always need to be blooded. And like you explained in the blog, now France have a massive squad with strength in depth right back to the clubs. The French have been patient and now it's paid off. They have a current playing sqaud with a range from young and exciting, to old and experienced. And if they get an injury, they dont just have a raft, but an aircraft carrier of players they can call on to fill in, all who have some internaltionl experience.

    On the reverse side, England have been trying to live out of their world cup success for the past 7 years. The Youngsters are just a temp job. I'd be willing to bet my student loan that if MJ could feild a team using all the players still around from the 2003 squad, with a few additons to make up the numbers, he would. They've brought back Mike Tindall for petes sake. All tournament they've been going on about the need to score tries and all England fans are frustrated with the lack of ambiton and creativity. So MJ's decision was to take out England's most creative player and replace him with an aged battering ram who hasn't been good since he left Bath (traitor).

    Conversly my nation Wales are still keeping to their tradition and are still blooding the players through. Again we just have to be patient however we'd get ther much quicker if we stopped buying into this awful trend of having to kick everything. We didn't win two grand slams in 4 years by playing a cross between football and tennis, we did it with ambition, passion, verve, creativity, physicality and by getting up in the faces of the opposition. We've shown glimpses of it through the touornament, like when we got our act together against scotland.

    predicitons for this weekend:

    Wales to beat Italy (Hopefully we'll get a decent game in and play for 80 minutes in the way we finished the scotland game)

    Ireland to beat Scotland (though hopefully Scotland will continue playing with ambition. I think it'll be close)

    France to thump England (not just a hope, i fully expect them too and under no means do England deserve to stop France getting the grand slam)

  • Comment number 11.

    Oh! !Ye of Little Faith.! Come on Men of the Rose, Swing Low and make this lot eat their words.

  • Comment number 12.

    bryn, good article again. It has been fascinating watching France play some mesmerising rugby and the part of me still hoping that England can pull it out of the bag and give MJ back a bit of respect. That will depend on the mental blocks that France have previously faced at the final push. I can't see it happening this time. But I can't wait to see the impact of Worsley hitting Bastareaud. I would like to hear what you think on whether the French can discover the mental toughness required for the match tomorrow and world cup beyond?

  • Comment number 13.

    You want applause because you tipped France to do well? I think most rugby fans would have tipped them to win, it's hardly a big call, especially since French teams have dominated the Heineken Cup. ;)

    By the way, England have also only conceded 5 tries this Six Nations, alongside France and Ireland.

    Oh and Bryn, I'm dreading seeing you put Lee Byrne as the fullback of the competition, like you disgracefully did last year instead of Armitage. Byrne was poor last year and he has been dire this year, please do the right thing and put Poitrenaud.

  • Comment number 14.

    Take note England! Yes,France have spent 2 years through trial and error,picking players but never losing their style and ambition and now have a settled squad ready for the RWC. Whereas England have spent 2 years trying to produce jam today and none tomorrow, desparately hanging onto the shadow of 2003,in a bid to win games but in reality pursuing a policy of not losing games. Then losing.
    When England lose on Saturday, will MJ and the RFU admit that the last 2 years have been wasted. That mistakes have been made and they have leant? I doubt it.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thanks for all your comments. To answer a few of them:

    3) Tim - I agree that France are currently Europe's best bet to stop one of the southern hemisphere big three winning next year's World Cup. They have New Zealand in their group too, which makes life interesting. I wouldn't say they were quite the only hope though. I think Ireland, with all their young talent coming through, could also make an impact if BOD and co can keep going until then, although they might struggle to win three/four big games in a row.

    5) Yongi - I think there are very few parallels between the approach of Martin Johnson and Marc Lievremont so far. Lievremont, in the first year (2008) after the last World Cup, opted to try different players in the knowlegde that it might impact on results. He is now getting the reward for that long-term thinking and as a result, France look in great shape going into next year. Johnson has adopted a 'it's all about winning the next game' policy and shown no inclination to give exciting young players a chance until he has been forced into it. Would Cole, Wilson and Mullan have had their chance if Sheridan, Vickery and White were fit? Debatable. Foden and Ashton were the form back-three players coming into this Six Nations, and are only getting their chance now.

    6) iknowsitknow - Prop Lionel Faure hasn't played for France since that Twickenham defeat last year, and lock Jerome Thion only played one more Test, the following week against Italy. I agree that's probably a slight exaggeration on the part of Ellis, although I have to say he spoke an awful lot of sense. His views on England were particularly interesting. As an Englishman, he is quite saddened by what has happened to the national team. He believes they should have given some of these young players a chance a long time ago and couldn't believe, for example, that Courtney Lawes - 'a very dangerous player' - wasn't given an opportunity in this Six Nations.

    7) Englishman in Wales and 13) Steve - You're correct, it wasn't a risky prediction, and I don't want applause Steve. My logic was largely based on that Lions stat. It makes sense when you think about the injury problems Wales in particular have suffered this season, and the mental challenge faced by Ireland this year, plus the fixture list, that France were favourites. But even so I think most of us have been surprised at how good they have been, particularly in defence, hence the blog.

    And Steve, fair enough, England have only conceded 5 tries like France, but they have only scored 5, whereas the French have scored 13. When you play with such a cautious approach like England, that's the result. If they don't score 31 points on Saturday, it will be their lowest-ever tally in the Six Nations era. And fear not, Poitrenaud has got the full-back spot...although there's still time for a 2004 Twickenham moment...







  • Comment number 16.

    Good article indeed;

    I think another important factor is that Lievremont has had a good management team around him that includes Jo Maso and others and he has been left alone to get on with the job, despite a few raised eyebrows at first.

    Also, I think the fact that many French players went to play in England has helped the team to become a much more 'complete' side.

    I just hope they can keep a cool head and concentrate on the job to do tomorrow.

  • Comment number 17.

    In response to Steve- How exactly are French teams dominating the Heineken Cup??

    I think the French deserve applause for the bravery and sense in using the 4 year world cup cycle to their complete advantage and not just looking at the current season.

  • Comment number 18.

    Excellent, thought-provoking blog. Anybody else getting the same sense of deja vu regarding Lievremont's approach and that of a certain SCW a decade or so ago? Or would that be the rosé-tinted specs I'm wearing?

  • Comment number 19.

    @kermischocolate:

    There are four french teams in the 1/4 finals of the Heineken Cup.
    That means half the teams are French, with two Irish teams, 1 Englsih and 1 Welsh.

    That is how France are dominating the HC.

  • Comment number 20.

    LOL - Moody and Tindall. And Easter. And Worsley.

    Why don't they just go the whole hog and get freakin Dallaglio back in.

    Or maybe Johnson's angling for a return himself?

  • Comment number 21.

    I go along with Tim on how France remind me of how England were in the run up to the 2003 world cup when some of the rugby we played was at times quite breathtaking and 40 to 50 points was a common score for us in the 6 nations.

    I just wonder how many sides can play different defensive systems as France had which I hadn't noticed just that they always had people in the right place at the right time and Wales apart had an answer to everything thrown at them.

    At the moment France are the northern hemisphere all blacks for me and it pains me as a patriotic englishman to say that for the sake of rugby I hope france win and win well tomorrow and show the rest of us how to play the game.


    Mind you if England do win I'll be cheering even more!

  • Comment number 22.

    wow, get ellis as our defence coach (or head coach even!) as soon as the world cup is over. when have you ever heard an interview with one of our coaches who articulated what he was trying to achieve like that? who actually has ideas on how to push his international players to develop and improve, how to adapt his tactics. he actually sounds like a progressive coach, get him in.

  • Comment number 23.

    "At the risk of appearing smug, I tipped France to win the Six Nations before it started."

    You and everyone else who doesn't hail from FGB (Formerly Great Britian)...

  • Comment number 24.

    the french just look far and aay the best team in the six nations this year, huge improvement from last year with a couple of brilliant new half backs that has seemed to make the team complete...

    as for england, they seem to play worse every game and they seem to lack leadership with a weak captain on the field in borthwick, and with johnson in charge they have no direction, he seems to want to play the same sort of game that won them the world cup with a far inferior team, i think its time for england to put an experienced manager in charge if they want a chance of achieving anyting in the world cup next year...
    france for grand slam
    ireland for triple crown

  • Comment number 25.

    As a Peprignan (USAP) season ticket holder I see a lot of French Rugby. Lievremont is a local lad to here and the talk has always been of patience in Catalonia and that even as a youth he stood out as having an outstanding rugby brain from his peers and four rugby playing brothers.
    Over and above his contributions, the key thing for me in the current set up is focus and discipline. Watching even 4th division equivalent rugby here, the skill levels blow you away, but the indiscipline is shocking. The casual refereeing of the breakdown, just leads to liberties being taken and rage and revenge building up. Every weekend what we would describe as full blown civil riots breakout on French rugby pitches, that spill over into the stands, with even policemen (fans of one team) engaging in running fights with players and supporters. 15 mins later it all calms down and the match continues with Gallic shrugs all round.
    Converesely, my boy plays at 11 year old for USAP and some of the stuff these kids can do with a ball is beathtaking. At this level they do not play positional rugby, but a variety of fortnightly mini rugby, full contact tournaments from teams of 12 down to 7 players. The whole emphasis is on keeping the ball alive, unloading from the tackle and no training drills take place without a ball in hand.
    The core skills of flowing rugby are just instilled from 8 years up, but always in full contact. I think they start to play positional Rugby at 13.
    Rugby sems to be so full of contradictions here, but all of these are driven by relentless passion, which Lievremont has contained, harnessed and focused. With no infighting it's not hard to see why French Rugby is in the ascendancy.

    As Brian Ashton insists "finding space is what good rugby is all about" not finding other big blokes to bash into with a different colour jersey from you. There are some English players, such as Tait, who I weep for in our curent system.

  • Comment number 26.

    I wouldn't read too much into France's performance at this year's six nations for next year's world cup. As has been shown time and again, the world cup is often not won by the best team on the planet.

  • Comment number 27.

    i really hope we get a good final day of rugby, wales will beat italy comfortably, i think ireland will pu up a big score today trying in vain i suspect to bring home the championship again... the french will run in a few against the english, if the english can dominate the scrum, which is probably the only area they are capable of dominating they will at least keep the score down and maybe cause the upset of the century...

  • Comment number 28.

    Very much looking forward to watching another glorious French performance today.

    Prediction: hugely enjoyable and sizeable victory, albeit against minor oppnenents.

  • Comment number 29.

    Bryn, I totally agree with you about England's safety first approach, although they did throw the ball around more than Ireland in that match. It was their lack of cutting edge that let them down.

    My point was that if you're going to say that Ireland have France have conceded the fewest tries with 5, why not mention England, who have also conceded only 5. I know the media love knocking England at every opportunity, but defense hasn't let them down thus far. Of course, now that I've said that, England will probably leak 7 tries this evening! ;)

  • Comment number 30.

    Re: No 22) RainyDayDreamAway - Funny you should mention the possibility of Ellis taking over as England's defence coach. Next year will be his third World Cup with France, and he said he may well look for something else on the international scene after that. He is thoroughly enjoying working with Toby Booth and Mike Catt at London Irish at the moment, but also has ambitions to work with the Lions, who he actually coached against when he did a stint with the All Blacks in 2005. He is a passionate Englishman despite his ties with France and told me: "I wouldn't mind having a crack at putting England right". Over to you, RFU.

    Re 29) Steve - I must admit I failed to mention that England, as well as France and Ireland, had also only conceded five tries. But let's face it, defence is not at heart of their problems. And I wanted this blog to focus on France, rather than England, even if it has highlighted a lot of the differences between the two. My colleague Tom Fordyce discussed the issues affecting England, if you missed it - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/tomfordyce/2010/03/england_the_hard_evidence.html

  • Comment number 31.

    I just want to say that France has to win, they have good players , great game nothing else is needed to win us . PS They also have a respect for this game that all the other teams does not have. I have seen them play for the last 2 years. I am sorry to say this but go france.... viv la france

  • Comment number 32.

    It will be interesting to see how good this French side is if England put them under the kosh for the first 10 mins and take an early lead.

    Will the French heads drop and their belief escape them? It wouldn't surprise anyone after the event if this happened.

    At 6-1 odds for an English victory, you've got to wonder whether the bookmakers aren't being a little generous to the patriotic English punter.



  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    Good performance by England, very poor refereeing, congrats to France.

  • Comment number 35.

    Well, France saved their worst performance for last. Grand Slam nerves I guess.

    But still too good for this woeful England team.

    But for a skin-of-the-teeth victory over Italy, they would have claimed the prestigious Wooden Spoon.

    Johnson must stay! :D

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

    I don't know what's more frustrating...a 9 point first half gift by a NZ ref who's obviously forgotten what France did at the last world cup or seeing the France captain lift a trophy for a tournament sponsored by the British Government!!!

  • Comment number 38.

    I was left confused after watching the rugby today; I thought France beat England so why all the analysis and interviews were about England I fail to understand. They were not the best team in the championship they could not beat FranceIreland or Scotland as for bias from referees, give us a break, where was all the complaints when there was referee bias against Ireland, today's match included,so please let's remember that England are not the only team in the Championship and maybe for next years we could do without Brian Moore's extremely bias comments in all matches he comments on!

  • Comment number 39.

    There is no question that Les Blues deserved the Grand Slam. They played with untypical commitment coupled with typical Gallic flair . . . until today that is! Is it England’s destiny to win only by grinding down their opposition, and seemingly to lose whenever they try to play expansively? Today it was the turn of the French to give Les Roast Beef a second half lesson in playing conservatively – they scored nil points in the last 40 minutes – and also played the referee beautifully.

    I am very aware that being English I will be accused of bias, but I am still seething, having watched one of the most baffling, inconsistent and one-sided refereeing displays it has been my displeasure to view.

    I don’t wish to be churlish about the French victory but the referee was an absolute disgrace – petty and finicky when it was unnecessary, uninterested in matters that demanded his vigilance and seemingly biased towards the French in the set-piece – for which they cannot be blamed for taking full advantage. I seriously hope the RFU never let him officiate an International ever again.

    Congratulations to France.

  • Comment number 40.

    The depth of French rugby at the moment is just scary, when you have England rummaging around for a decent combination in the backs the french are positively bathing in them.

    I go and watch Biarritz regularly and watch lot of top14 on tv. here in France and it amazes me how much talent the French sides have int hem. They could loose the whole starting XV and still put out a decent team, possibly one good enough to worry the rest of the 6 nations sides! It's just crazy.

    Of course it does depend on how they play on the day! thats always been the French way, but for now I can see them staying strong for a long time.

 

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