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France throw down gauntlet to flawed rivals

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Tom Fordyce | 15:42 UK time, Sunday, 21 March 2010

Deep in the concrete bowels of the Stade de France, Marc Lievremont looked simultaneously delighted and drained with the arrival of his first Grand Slam as coach. "It is a very nice baby," he said, with apposite analogy, "even if the birth was quite difficult."

Martin Johnson is nobody's idea of the dream midwife. For long periods on Saturday night in Paris it seemed as if there would be no champagne-fuelled celebrations for Les Bleus, no tearful welcome home into the embrace of an ecstatic nation.

That France squeaked home and sealed the Slam with their least impressive performance of the season rather summed up the championship: never mind the quality, feel the tension.

Lievremont's men have been the season's stand-out team, England the stodgiest. Saturday was supposed to be a shindig to celebrate the re-birth of French rugby. Instead, it had something of a fancy-dress party about it, with each team coming as the other.

England scored the only try, tried to run from everywhere and put the ball through hands like it was spring in Hong Kong rather than a filthy-wet St-Denis. France kept it tight, kicked away possession and won the game with penalty kicks instead of panache.

If it was effective, it was also excruciating for the thousands of blue-shirted and beret-wearing home fans in the stadium and the 15 men out on the pitch itself.

Only when you arrived in Paris and started talking to the locals and reading the back pages did you truly begin to appreciate the hold England - any England - have over France. No matter that on paper the hosts were 15 points better than the stuttering tourists. As far as the locals are concerned, England always beat France when it matters. It's the role the Australia cricket team play for England, or what the German football team does to England football fans: death by penalties, whenever it really matters.

You could see it all around, in Lievremont himself before kick-off ("As a player I was annoyed by England - they did not play good rugby and they cheated"), in the stuttering performance from even the old hands on the park, in the glorious exuberance of Raphael Ibanez's mother-in-law, sat in front of Johnson and his coaches, whenever France edged further in front.

No matter that France adapted to the conditions better than England did, let the front row squeeze them penalties at the scrum and closed out the match with dead-eyed deliberation. The crowd wanted more.

With 15 minutes to go, the backs chose to kick to safety from deep rather than risk running it. Whistles and jeers filled the air. France were in front, with a Grand Slam at their fingertips. Which other set of supporters would treat their almost-conquering heroes in quite the same way?

England were a considerable improvement on the dismal drudgery of their last three matches. At last there was some quick ball, dynamism from the forwards, pace and angles and line-breaks from the backs. That they got so close to pooping the party but failed to find the coup de grace left the players and management inconsolable.

Full-back Ben Foden holds his head in his hands at the end of England's defeat by France.jpgFull-back Ben Foden, who finished off a sensational early try, cannot hide his disappointment after England's defeat

All the pre-match talk had been about the importance of the first 20 minutes. When Mathieu Bastareaud smashed Riki Flutey backwards and Francois Trinh-Duc slotted a wobbly dropper before everyone had taken their seats, the signs were ominous, but so quickly and impressively did England strike back that thoughts returned to the last two meetings between the sides in the stadium.

For Ben Foden's early try this time, read Paul Sackey's two years ago and Josh Lewsey's in the World Cup semi. Foden even scored with a dive into the same corner as the latter, and the boisterous travelling support reacted with undisguised, inebriated glee.

That the momentum was soon lost owed much to the rain and the reffing. When the taps turned on, the game-plan failed to adjust and the handling errors shot up. And when push came to shove, Bryce Lawrence could apparently only see one set of villains.

Publically, England's leaders both on and off pitch refused to blame Lawrence's curious inconsistencies for their side's defeat. In private, however, Johnson and Lewis Moody were fuming. Three times in succession England were penalised for supposed infringements at the scrum, but when France transgressed moments later they were let off with mere warnings.

Lawrence isn't the most popular ref in the British Isles. It was his controversial calls against Phil Vickery that did so much so shape the first Lions test last summer. This time it was Dan Cole who repeatedly fell foul of his interpretations, no matter how much he protested his slippery-footed innocence.

Fussiness you can take. Unpredictability is harder to deal with. England conceded 10 penalties and free-kicks to France's two in the first half, and with that all 12 points that France scored.

There were chances. Chris Ashton had to score when clean through on the dithering Clement Poitrenaud. That he decided to kick rather than step or pass haunted him afterwards as he sat slumped in the away team's dressing-room.

Jonny Wilkinson too brought those World Cup memories flooding back. When he landed his best penalty for years to make it 12-10 with 13 minutes to go, you could sense the horror and déjà-vu spreading through the French players and fans.

In that semi-final, France had led 9-8 with five minutes to go before Wilkinson's penalty and drop-goal broke their hearts. Not this time. England failed to find any sort of field position to give the old stager a snap. France ran down the clock, and the roar at the final whistle was as much relief as anything else. England's skipper was left with the Moody blues, his knights in white satin slumping to the turf as their opponents waved the trophy to the sodden night skies.

The victorious French squad celebrate their first Grand Slam for six years in their dressing room at the Stade de France.jpgThe victorious French squad celebrate their first Grand Slam for six years

France deserved to be champions, even if the Slam itself was close to slipping away. They were by far the best team in the competition - not at all the finished article, and more vulnerable than their results might lead you to believe, but the only side who look capable of giving the southern hemisphere any restless nights.

They scored the most tries and the most points, made the most line-breaks and turnovers and had the most impressive set of forwards at both set-piece and in the loose. In Morgan Parra and Imanol Harinordoquy, they had the players of the tournament.

For England, the stats are less edifying - their lowest points tally in the Six Nations, only six tries scored and a third place in the table after successive seconds. It's a strange kind of progress. New-boys Foden and Ashton both impressed in Paris, which to some only underlined that they should have been handed starts earlier.

Johnson was at pains to point out that his side's two defeats came by a combined total of six points. His defence conceded only five tries in six matches, and kept the Grand Slam champions tryless throughout and scoreless for the entire second half.

"Of course we're frustrated," he said afterwards. "There are probably four teams saying 'could have' this season. But I said to the guys as they watched France lift the trophy - you've just played the champions, and you matched them all the way."

Deep down, Johnson will know further improvements will be required. Rumours from the England camp suggest the positions of assistant coach John Wells and attack coach Brian Smith are most under threat. With two Tests down under in June and a Tri-Nations assault to follow in November, the road ahead may be a rocky one.

For their northern hemisphere rivals, the Six Nations brought both optimism and doubt. Each performed in patches, but the flaws were as evident as the finery.

Wales, veering from the wonderfully cavalier to the woefully catastrophic, missed their Lions front row and scrum-half as much as Warren Gatland had feared. Scotland finished second-bottom again but were in many ways the most improved team of the lot. With luck and cooler heads, they could have won four of five.

Ireland aimed for successive Slams and failed in the end to even claim a Triple Crown, raising the awkward question of whether they are actually quite as good as many of us thought two months ago, and Italy - well, they got their win, and pushed England close to another.

For quality of rugby it was sometimes second-rate; for atmosphere and drama, it was hard to beat. Three different Grand Slam champions in three years tells its own tale of fierce competition and a levelling in standards. To France the blue riband, to the others the gauntlet.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Félicitations la France! (Congratulations to France!) They've played some excellent rugby this year, and are deserved champions!

    As for the game yesterday, I'm gutted we lost, but at least we did ourselves proud by actually trying to play rugby. As you yourself said, Tom, Foden and Ashton both impressed, and clearly should have been brought in earlier. I thought Flood played well, too, and he was a key component in our 'new' playing with the ball in hand. It will be interesting to see who'll be at fly half in a few months.

  • Comment number 2.

    Decent enough blog Tom.

    France were indeed in fancy dress as England last night. Clearly the best team won the competition but it was a bit of a wake up call for them yesterday. I also think they are starting to rely very heavily on Harinordoquy and now Parra, whose kicking and game management was excellent. The 8 is in the form of his life, can he keep it up for another year? Parra hasn't really been tested under pressure and he gives a few signs of a shaky temperament too.

    I'm glad you haven't jumped on the Bastareaud bandwagon - after Lee Byrne he has to be the most over rated player in the tournament. He is tough to bring down but makes so many errors - probably the most handling errors in the tournament I would guess. He is no certain starter for Lievremont and was hauled off early last night after not starting the previous match. Is it just because he has a striking punnable name?



  • Comment number 3.

    PS Any chance of some player ratings by you boys?

  • Comment number 4.

    France played very poorly by their standards, but were still too good for a woeful England.

    Were it not for a hairsbreadth victory against Italy, England would have been staring down the wooden spoon this season.

    Johnson must surely go now.

  • Comment number 5.

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

  • Comment number 6.

    Johnson complained in private? He went down pitchside at half-time & end of match and "spoke" to (berated) officials.
    Didn't seem that upset by the reffing in last weeks England/ Scotland game... Oh, yes, that gave them a draw!
    Poster 2: Parra hasn't been tested under pressure? Odd thing to say!
    Bastareud most handling errors? Mmm, Shane Williams seems to have a bit of trouble staying upright sometimes, let alone dropping the ball, but he scores tries, so it's OK. Oh, hang on so does Bastareud!
    Bastareud no certain starter? Well, not the one match where he was getting over injury.
    Bastareud "hauled off early"? Replaced (after doing his usual hard work)by a 2-try scoring replacement. Did you notice that Lievremont uses his bench? Oh, hang on, so do all coaches. (But some perhaps more wisely than others -Mike Tindall off, what a good idea!)
    Anyway, all in all rather suspect choice of player to pick on...

  • Comment number 7.

    Oops, missed an apostrophe!
    Last week's...
    Sooo embarasssed!

  • Comment number 8.

    ruadhbeag

    Are you OK? Yes thats right Bastareaud has had questionable handling in this years tournament flunking several chances per game. Comparing his handling with taht of Shane Williams whether you are a fan or not is ludicrous. Plus being changed at half time is being pulled off early whatever universe you are from. I just think the press over-hype him when in fact he isn't that crucial to Lievremont who is more than happy to bring on a 'two try scoring replacement'.

    Parra hasn't been tested under pressure, he is a young sh whose team have been ahead in all games. Even thne he managed to earn himself a petulant yellow card. Having seen his club performances as well I can say with certainty that his temperament is still questionable.

    PS Do you watch rugby or did you just come onto this blog from the sport front page?

  • Comment number 9.

    Just read GK's posts from the last week or so.

    WOW!

    You really are a bitter bloke.

  • Comment number 10.

    I actually enjoyed yesterdays game more than any other this 6 nations despite the defeat. One reason why, we actually tried to play some decent rugby for a change!

    Ben Fodens try was superb and it was a performance from him that should ensure he keeps Delon Armitage out of the starting team.

    Anyone else wondering what Riki Flutey does for the team though?? I haven't seen him have one good game this tournament.

  • Comment number 11.

    I rewatched the game early this morning on i Player. England were completely desinhibited. Johnson must have had a Henry V type of speech ("Go on lads, it's for your country, go out there and smash some heads") which promoted fast play. But I think France adapted well and although they tried to raise the tempo of passing at times, they mainly focused on the tempo of aggressive defending, and in this respect they played clever and bravely. Therefore, they deserved a victory. Has the ref received a death threat? In any way, England conceded enough penalties that were correctly given to make the 'bad ref' argument justifiably stand. I thought it was a great game of rugby, and brought a dramatic end to our ost loved tournaments of all.

  • Comment number 12.

    Some people just seem to have a vendetta against Johnson and this England team:

    "France played very poorly by their standards, but were still too good for a woeful England.

    Were it not for a hairsbreadth victory against Italy, England would have been staring down the wooden spoon this season.

    Johnson must surely go now."

    Firstly, were it not for a soft try/a poor reffing decision at the end against Ireland, England could have been unbeaten going into this game

    Secondly, were it not for a matter of inches/two missed penalties/a charged down drop goal, England could have been going for the Grand Slam themselves

    Thirdly, had Ashton and Cueto been able to draw and pass off their breaks, England could have won the Grand Slam.

    Fourthly, woeful England? Of the three teams who went to Paris, 33 - 10, 46 - 20 and 12 - 10.

    Finally, Wooden Spoon? Had Scotland lost to Ireland, they would have had it. Were it not for, and I quote "a hairsbreadth victory" against Scotland, Wales could have ended up with it.

    Let's be honest. England could have won all five, and they could have lost all five. France could have lost all five, and they did win all of them, so they deserve the title.

    Off to cool down now...

  • Comment number 13.

    H-pit:
    I'm actually very well, thanks, feeling good!
    "He is a young sh whose team have been ahead in all games":
    Parra is one of the reasons they've been ahead!
    But you probably have more psychological insight into him than anyone - young sh being a technical term, not just a sulky perjorative- so let's wait & see!
    My point re Bastareud's / S. Williams "handling errors" is you can find 'em in most players at times. Perception, really.
    (He's not over -hyped in France, they just appreciate him as a decent, valuable team player.)
    Oh I watch wayyyyyyyyyyyyyy too much rugby, by the way!
    (But I prob shldn't have posted on here!)

  • Comment number 14.

    I'm not a plastic... I'm a red inflatable beach ball!!,

    Thank God someone else has noticed how useless Riki Fluety has been in this 6N! I think that a lot of the flack Wilko has been taking is as much down to Flutey holding him back than anything else. How can Wilko stand flat, when Flutey is standing about 25m behind the gain-line?
    Saying that I think that Flood controlled the game well against France, so perhaps a Flood/Wilko or Wilko/Flood, 10/12 axis is the way forward until England produce a quality 12. After all the Wilko/Flood axis worked really well against Wales and looked pretty sharp for the last 15 mins or so against France.

  • Comment number 15.

    At 7.21 I meant 'UNjustifiably stand.'

    I can't wait to see how France will perform on their tour of SA later in the year. It will be a 'make it or break it' situation.
    For goodness sake, why didn't England try to play anything like the way they did last night against the other teams? They would have smashed other teams and last night would have been a title decider? A Manager who has so much weaponery but doesn't use it has some wicked plan in mind or some serious explaining to do. I thought he was going to smash the blond woman to pieces. Did you see him post match standing in front of a half sized French official with his arms crossed and his Star Trek features very serious indeed. The French block looked very serious and il est parti tres vite comme s'il avait le feu au pantalon.

  • Comment number 16.

    Ruadhbeag
    In my original post I stated that France were easily the best team in the tournament and Parra was won of their two best players. However, he has been playing behind a totally dominant pack - Ireland and Scotland (without Murray) were totally blown away. This is the kind of situation where a scrum half should thrive, and Parra did - looking very good and guiding the team into commanding leads in most games. But having not had a real fight on his hands or playing with a pack going backwards leads me to state that we have yet to see how he will perform in that situation. When Wales briefly pressurised the French he panicked and gave away a stupid, petulant yellow card - so the question remains for me. You obviously think he is the greatest scrum half who ever grace the game and is beyond mild questioning already.

  • Comment number 17.


    Well for me there was no supprises this 6N.

    coming into it I taught france would win..Ireland would come 2nd and after that it was a toss up between wales and england...and thats exactly what happened.

    france are def the best northern hemi team and ireland 2nd. thats not gonna change anytime soon.

    wales were dreadful start to finish

    england are getting worse every tournament even tho they will manage to take a close loss to france as some amazing comeback and improvement..but thats down to their low expectations for their countries team...france played their worse game and england do have a hex on france over the past few years so that played on their mind as well

    roll on summer tests! france should get a win and ireland possibly against australia...apart from that judging on this 6n none of the other teams will come close to a win.

  • Comment number 18.

    H:
    Yes.
    No, but who knows, maybe one day he will be?
    But not really sure of the point of the questioning? I'm fairly sure there's other teams merit that more?

  • Comment number 19.

    HOOKERS ARMPIT

    I could'nt agree more Parra has been able to play without any pressure due to a pack that is well ballanced starting with a front row that has become a dominant force in the scrum plus a back row that can secure quick ball which gives PARRA time and space to create havoc something England were once the best at. PLEASE JOHNSON dont let Tim Payne play again he is awful as for Borthwith whyyyyyyyyyyy? he gives us nothing time to create a pack that can compete with the best bring in LAWES, DOWSEN,ROBSHAW,GOLDING,KENNEDY and SCHOFIELD with these players in the squad you can build a real pack.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ireland finish 2nd... yet still not good according to everyone...how ridiculous we've lost two games since January 2009. Well done to France, I think Scotland were unlucky not to get more points as were Italy.

    England had a good performance against France but I would still be worried. Also Wales need to shape up.

  • Comment number 21.

    Yes we played consevatively yesterday,yes we were shaky BUT we played tight ,did not expand and got a result.WE BEAT ENGLAND and Ireland,Wales,Italy and Scotland!! THATS WHAT COUNTS

    But MOREOVER SH TEAMS,argentina rsa australia knows now we can beat them at their own game:TIGHT CONSERVATIVE BIG SCRUM AND WE CAN EXPAND AND BEAT NZ!!

    I will drink some chardonney and muscador now
    WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!

  • Comment number 22.

    france2010winner:
    Felicitations!

  • Comment number 23.

    ruadhbeag:
    Thanks

  • Comment number 24.

    I can't wait to open up my Sunday Times sport pages with giant color pictures of THE GAME, while resting my boots on the nearby desk where will be found some junk food and other self-indulging items, as I'm expecting a National Day for French Rugby Fans In The UK (I'll be too busy for the phone and clients, they should know better). But the victory in my opinion is shared with England who displayed some nice moves. The end of the tournament wouldn't have been the same had it been a trash of sorry Italy.
    How many years should we allow Italy to go on before we start bashing them in these blogs? 3? Then we can electronically assault them?

  • Comment number 25.

    Geordie2004 - who would you start on the tour to Aus - Flood or Wilkinson? Room for another?

    Hookers_armpit - no player ratings planned, but I can (a) offer Mr Bryn Palmer's team of the tournament blog on Monday and a Six Nations awards blog from me shortly afterwards, and (b) promise that I'll debate all day long if you fancy posting your own thoughts...

    Plastic, Phil - had a very poor tournament, hasn't he? Not sure what's going on - shouldn't have a Lions hangover, as his game time was limited. Been a shadow of himself last Six Nations.

    France2010winner - Chardonnay and Muscador together? On a Sunday? Racy

  • Comment number 26.

    tindall was good, but not as good as everyone has made out. tait showed he can run straight as well when he came on. the real difference for me was the pack, they were much better all round (not counting the scrum which was poorly refereed), why does it take france to bring this out of them (see last year as well)? quicker ball meant a defence that wasn't in our faces which allowed us to run at the gain line. most of the attacking play didn't really look any differnt from what we've done earlier in the tournament, its was just off better ball. we still managed to butcher a number of chances as well, why can't we put the ball through the hands when we have an overlap instead of throwing miss passes or kicking.

    agree with earlier posts about flutey, he has been poor this tournament. i wish we'd move away from this obsession with a 2nd 5/8th at 12, would be interested in seeing tindal there (with jth as future here) with tait outside him. my problem with tindal at 13 is limited distribution to those outside him. how many pases did he actually make? (the try came with him out of the attacking line with the ball going through flood(?) flutey ashton to foden) and this isn't new either, this has always been my problem with him (and noon in the past).

  • Comment number 27.

    nice to see the many congratulation messags from rugby gentlemen, thank you

    shame your national manager had no word of congratulation to say to the winners. instead moaning about refs.

  • Comment number 28.

    English fans need to stop hyping up ben foden, hes solid in defence but a one trick pony in attack, he's only a battering ram and will never have the spark to really cut it at international level now teams know what hes about, a bit like vainikolo. Armitage of 2009 is a far superior player if he can be brought back to that level once fully fit. Foden like every english player whos broke a tackle since 2003, has been hyped up loads only to be turned on when things go wrong.

  • Comment number 29.

    Congratulations to France, the best team throughout the tournament, they deserve their grand slam. We lost yesterday because France played the conditions better than we did and yes, we were under pressure in the scrum.
    Martin Johnson insists that the performance was nothing to do with the team changes but I beg to differ. I hope that most of that team start the summer games in Australia. Flood, Ashton and Foden must be retained at the very least, Palmer had his best game for England and we must be thinking about having Moody or Easter as a permanent captain.
    One last issue, the ref. I wouldn't say he was biased, there were some very poor decisions given against both teams (but we got the brunt of it). From what I've seen in the Six Nations, southern hemisphere refs have no idea how to ref a scrum and it become either a lottery or a vendetta against a particular player or team. Why couldn't we have had a Welsh or Irish ref yesterday ?

  • Comment number 30.

    No mention of Tindall? Thought he was probably our best player on balance. Took charge, and I was baffled when he was replaced. I think he was there to shackle Basteraud, and when the giant came off so did Tindall. However, the only two instances of great handling by the backs that I can recall in the entire championship were both by Tindall - putting first Foden, then Ashton through the French line.

  • Comment number 31.

    Don't you worry Hookers_armpit, Picamoles offers a decent replacement for Harinordoquy and the two combined together could actually be the most terrific option of all at 7 and 8. France this year had up to a record 15 injured players, some of which were and still are definite first choice (Barcella, Millo-Chluski, Clerc, Mermoz, Dupuy, Ouedraogo) and so many others are still in serious contention for a place to the RWC 2011: Heymans (wing), Medard (fullback), David (centre), Fritz (centre), Lacroix (centre), Ducalcon (prop), Kayser (hooker), Beauxis (fly half), Traille (Centre), Rougerie (wing), Fall (wing), Arias (wing), Michalak (fly half), Pape (second row), Floch (fullback). Others are yet to be given a chance or at least are a sure bet as a back up option: Donguy (wing), Porical (fullback), Estebanez (fly half - centre), Wisniewski (fly half), Guirado (hooker), Debaty (prop), Burban (back row). There is so many options to chose from and still 18 months to get it right.

  • Comment number 32.

    Bastareaud is only 21, remember Ma'a Nonu at his beginning and even until recently? He was dropping the ball all over the place and now he is the real deal along Conrad Smith. The bandwagon is made by the journalists, but at the end I would not deny the player's potential. He has yet to mature but it sure looks promising.

  • Comment number 33.

    England has a real potential too, whether those new players would have down better than their predecessors earlier in the tournament under the same circumstances remains to be seen. England had nothing to play for in the Tournament, except humiliating a nervous France at home, so as far as the new guys are concerned it was actually the ideal environment to start with. Martin Johnson will have to reshuffle the front row, one would think. Bring back Sheridan and Vickery and we have a different unit, but can they make it to 2011, Hookers_armpit? For Lievremont, Retiere and N'Tamack, it is 50% job done (from 1 to 9 and 6-7-8 there are certainties), the biggest test remains 10-11-12-13-14-15. Michalak being out of contention for at least a year, I can see Estebanez being called in complement of Trinh-Duc who still needs to improve his game ball in hand. Pairs of centre like Bastareaud-Mermoz, Mermoz-Marty or Jauzion-David are likely to be seen later this year. About 11-14-15 I hope Lievremont will not make a Laporte and will stick with specialists only. Medard, Poitrenaud, Palisson, Floch, Porical at fullback, Donguy, Clerc, Andreu, Fall, Arias, Heymans on the wing. Trinh-Duc must change club so he can play the Heineken Cup next season. Overall, I am confident this team will be highly competitive when comes RWC 2011.

  • Comment number 34.

    traveller_chris, most discipline committees from 6N, IRB, ERC are already composed of Irish, English and Welsh members, and it appears clearly the French get banned while others don't. Flannery is one example of the double standard of punishment granted, the English player who eye-gouged the Scots during this year's Six Nations was even more shocking. So I guess for the fairness of the game, I would rather leave the referees from the Southern Hemisphere do their job in the Six Nations. (except Dickinson who everybody agrees - is not up to international standards)

  • Comment number 35.

    I would be patient with Italy, especially since they are going to join the Magners League. They have progressed greatly under Berbizier and Mallett, they need to be more consistent. Scotland was great to watch this year, I hope they keep on progressing and maybe beats England in the RWC 2011 pool? ;-)

  • Comment number 36.

    Just picking up on the reffing for the whole tournament.
    It struck me that most of the refs weren't using their touch judges properly - weren't involving them, weren't encouraging them to be proactive in the decision making process. Many times in this tournament I've seen touch judges looking at the ref and waiting for a signal before indicating a decision. Seems to be particularly common with Southern hemisphere refs.

    Anyway - Wayne Barnes ENG(Wales-Italy match), whatever his failings, was a breath of fresh air. He refereed without the usual arrogance of most of the refs, he communicated and used and *trusted* his touch judges, and he communicated to the players.

    Not saying he didn't make mistakes in the match (he did), but would still like to praise him for doing the job properly.

    Close tournament. Many matches could easily have gone the other way.
    England, Ireland, Wales AND Scotland are all probably thinking "what if".
    Scotland could (should?) have beaten both England & Wales - they could have had the Triple Crown.

  • Comment number 37.

    France: (7.4 out of 10)
    15 Clement Poitrenaud 8
    14 Marc Andreu 6
    13 Mathieu Bastareaud 6
    12 Yannick Jauzion 8
    11 Alexis Palisson 5
    10 François Trinh-Duc 6
    9 Morgan Parra 8
    8 Imanol Harinordoquy 9
    7 Julien Bonnaire 6
    6 Thierry Dusautoir (c) 9
    5 Julien Pierre 6
    4 Lionel Nallet 7
    3 Nicolas Mas 9
    2 William Servat 8
    1 Thomas Domingo 10

    England: (5.5 + 1 pt for the gasoline = 6.5)
    15 Ben Foden 7
    14 Mark Cueto 7
    13 Mike Tindall 6
    12 Riki Flutey 6
    11 Chris Ashton 6
    10 Toby Flood 7
    9 Danny Care 5
    8 Nick Easter 6
    7 Lewis Moody (c) 7
    6 Joe Worsley 5
    5 Louis Deacon 6
    4 Simon Shaw 6
    3 Dan Cole 2
    2 Dylan Hartley 3
    1 Tim Payne 3

  • Comment number 38.

    +30% Lewis Moody team enhancement projection = 8.45
    + 1 pt for buying Stella Artois in Calais = 9.45 (close to excellence!)

  • Comment number 39.

    Nice bit of poetry in there Tom. Keep it up.

    Also, for your entertainment, look again at the photo of the winning team above, especially the player in the foreground, and consider the whole scene.

    Now web-search the image of the 'Last Supper' by Philippe de Champaigne.
    It's spooky.

  • Comment number 40.

    ....and I am pleased for the French, because they know that no one will try harder to defeat them in Paris.

  • Comment number 41.

    Yeah well done to France.
    I would say that the best team won, but I think England shined and France wilted on the night - but there is no doubt that France were the best team in this year's Six Nations.

    The Six nations is getting tighter.
    All in all, Scotland I think were newfound team of the Championship - they Should have beaten Wales, Italy and England, and drew France close...

    Can't wait until 2011

  • Comment number 42.

    As Matthew Tait warmed up I was getting quite excited. If MJ took Flutey off and moved Tindall to inside centre, we surely had a good chance of getting the win. It would put an unmerited gloss on England's campaign, but that would have been OK if they had finally found a team that can play rugby.

    Then, as I watched in horror Mike Tindall trudging off the field, I was certain: Martin Johnson has to go!

  • Comment number 43.

    Good blog, Tom - looking forward to hearing what you and Bryn have to say regarding the best team/tournament awards.

    Firstly, hats off to France - it's what the team and their coach deserve, and I really hope they give the SANZAR sides a real run for their money in next year's World Cup.

    Moving back to my home nation, I think the unfortunate thing about this tournament, from an English perspective, was that, although we had players who were great in 2009, some had been out of contention for a while (namely Armitage and Flutey), and therefore, they weren't in the same vein of form. With this in mind, Martin Johnson probably should have thought to bring in some different faces, like he finally decided upon against France, because it meant that, although the spine of the team was more or less the same, you had more players that were on form this season, which, overall, contributed to a better performance. I think Ashton played well, despite that one poor decision when faced with a try-scoring opportunity, and Foden had a blinder. Despite what Eoin says (i.e. he doesn't have a lot going forward other than strength), I think that, having seen him in Sevens, Saxons and at club level, he has more to offer than just brute force. He can clear his lines well, he can tackle, he can break defensive lines, and my God can he run - he's pretty much what you need in a Full-Back. Until Armitage gets back to his 2009 form, I honestly can't see a more fitting replacement (unless someone like David Strettle can stop himself from getting injured again).

    It's a bit of a shame that Tom Croft didn't really feature in this tournament - I like to think that he adds a different dimension to the pack, as he gives a solid 3rd option in the lineout and has some serious pace on him which terrorised South Africa during the Lions tour. I would have liked to have seen him play more, and I hope that Johnson gives him a run out over the Summer and the Autumn.

    It's not just him that needs a run out, in my view - I'm slightly annoyed that Courtney Lawes only got about 5-10 minutes in this tournament, because he's another guy who deserves a chance. Plus there are several other guys that need to be brought in, to give us more depth come next year's 6 Nations and World Cup - Jordan Turner-Hall would be a welcome addition to give us another option at Centre, for example.

    I just think that Johnson needs to get some players out of the mindset that their place in the England XV is guaranteed - shake up the Centre partnerships, shake up the second row, rotate the back row forwards, give other people a stint as captain instead of the uninspiring Borthwick. This is the type of thing that Lievremont's done, and it's meant that players have realised that they have to play out of their skins to get into the team, and do the same to keep their place in the team, as every player could be easily replaced.

    Aside from my feelings about England, I think that Wales and Ireland need to improve on their consistency, as they were both up and down like they were playing musical chairs. They've both got good squads, but they just need to bring the best out of them, on something of a more permanent basis.

    Scotland have a bright future ahead of them - their Autumn win against Australia has really galvanised them in terms of their self-confidence, and their pack is stronger than ever. If they can bring the same level of performance out of their backs (not just Dan Parks, who has been superb this tournament), and have a little more luck in terms of injuries, they could be dark horses for next year's 6 Nations, as well as for their World Cup pool.

    As for Italy, I think that patience is key. They're a developing Rugby nation, who are still looking to expand the popularity of the sport, as well as raising the standard of it. If they can get more players like Sergio Parisse into their ranks (who, I have to say it, I really missed this tournament) and get a deeper bench, they could actually go somewhere, and I hope that the potential inclusion of Treviso and Viadana into the Magner's League will help to promote and improve the game over there.

    I'm so looking forward to the rest of this and next year!

  • Comment number 44.

    Ruadbheag,

    Have to pick up on your comments/praise of Bastauread

    He is in my opinion not a great rugby player and it is beyond me how he has been shortlisted for player of the tournament and to hear J Guscott gushing about him is quite stomach turning

    Yes he is devestating from close in and does deliver one heck of a hit when he tackles you but England exposed him cruelly twice firstly for the try when all he could do was waddle like a duck after Foden and gave up the chase virtually immediately

    Again when Ashton was put through he couldn't turn and again gave up the chase after about 5 metres and only Ashton's error stopped England getting a second try and winning the game

    Virtually immediately after that Llievremont subbed him for David Marty and the French defence was a much tighter outfit after that as it had to be, remember a lot of test rugby games are won by defence this one being a major point in case and if Bastaauread had stayed on France would have lost - good call by Llievremont

    Ulster exposed his defensive frailities in the Heineken cup game in Belfast as well when Stade Francais were supposed to win handsomely and in fact lost

    He was completely innefective in attack as were most of the French backs in that game

    Tindall's nouse exposed what are in my opinion fatal flaws in Bastareaud game.

    If the forward battle is even as it was on Saturday then quality centres will have no problem with him

    He is in my opinion too big and muscle bound for a centre in rugby union as Keith Wood said before the Iriah game on TV the programme stated he was eighteen and a half stone and whoever wrote that was ''being a little kind to him''

    A La Jonah Lomu after the 95 world cup final when the Springboks showed the rest of the world how to deal with him (two tacklers before he gets in full stride) England have shown the rest how to deal with Bastaureaud get round or passed him and he cannot turn and chase he will be much less effective in future

    I would expect the French conditioning guys will be looking at getting at least a stone or maybe two off him to make him more mobile


  • Comment number 45.

    Congratulations to France - the best side overall of the tournament with a deserved win

    England looked a lot better this game, moving the ball well and mixing up their options. I thought Ashton had a great game and so did Foden. I can easily forgive Ashton's error as he needs more test experience - I reckon at club level he would have just stepped the guy and outran him; the chip was the wrong decision here and he payed for it. C'est la vie

    I'm not going down the route of blaming the ref for this game - I thought that the reffing of the scrums was awful all through the 6N; SH refs just can't ref a scrum properly (or they have strange interpretations of the laws) What players want is consistency - you don't mind if the ref is using a different interpretation of a law; but he MUST be consistent with decisions. Front row players will try any trick they can if they can get away with it (ie. booring in on Thompson constantly without being pinged) but will respond when directed by the ref. The problem comes when only one side *appears* to be penalised when both are doing the same thing

    I though Scotland were underrated through this - they played some great rugby and will be a big handful come next year, Robinson has made a clear impact there - good stuff

    Anyway - hats off to France - a deserved championship win!

  • Comment number 46.

    OK - so here are my tournament ratings for England:
    (be good if others feel like putting their countries in too...)

    15 - Armitage: 5
    Feel a bit sorry for Delon - prior to the tournament much expectation was heaped on his shoulders after England's abysmal Autumn, however, coming back from a long injury he was clearly shorn of form and confidence and was way off last years form whilst holding an exciting prospect out of the side. Questions about the management decision to start him and persist with him...I hope his confidence is not badly dented from the experience.
    - Foden: 7
    A breath of fresh air whenever he played. Looked like he was up for it and won't struggle to make the step up. The poster above who states he is a one trick basher is a loony.

    14 - Cueto: 7
    Can't knock the old hand too much. Looked in good touch and was solid and reliable in defence. Never looked very likely to score though and really needs a bit more pace to be a world class wing. Seems to be one of MJs men so little chance of change. Would like to see JSD and Strettle given a run in the summer.

    13 - Tait: 6
    Only really visible in attack for the first two games, faded after. Perhaps due to poor quality ball but he hasn't grasped the opportunity to make the shirt his own. Slipped off a few tackles that Tindall wouldn't.
    - Tindall: 7
    Good return. Decent player who seems to help the incision of England' backline as well as being stout in defence and a leader.

    12 - Flutey: 4
    Like Armitage was coming back from injury. Desperately disappointing. A poor tournament anonymous in attack and error laden in defence. Alarmingly, England currently have no other options here. Problem position.

    11 - Monye: 5
    Never showed us his greatest attribute, pace. Didn't look like scoring (his main job) and butchered a number of good chances. Questions about his international calibre have re-emerged.


    - Ashton: 6
    A decentish debut for skillful player. Will learn from the mistake he made with the big chance.

    10 - Wilkinson: 5
    Clearly a strong figure in the squad but was not up to the mark with his decsision making, defence, attack or kicking. Maybe a good sub to shore up games in the future.
    - Flood: 6
    Some solid displays with the ball in hand but is a little vulnerable in defence and might not have the nous or edge to split good international defences. Place kicking was wobbly.

    9 - Care: 7
    Much maligned for his sideways running, I think this is exaggerated due to the need for a scapegoat. He at least always looks to give England impetus and holds his own against other good 9's. His quick taps weren't very effective this year.

    1 - Payne: 6
    Before the tournament heralded as the worlds worst scrummager. However, didn't let England down in any match but didn't really impress either. Wouldn't Flatman have offered a bit more? Sheridan will take the shirt straight back.

    2 - Hartley: 5
    Started the tournament well against Wales but thereafter disappointed with the issues of line-out throwing and temperament re-emerging. However, the claims of gouging are malicious slander, there was nothing in his hand bags with Ross Ford.

    3 - Cole: 6
    Held his own until the last match where he was embarassed. Will get better.

    - Wilson: 6
    Not so good against Wales. Shored things up against France. A bit invisible in the loose.

    4 - Shaw: 5
    England play better when he is on, unfortunately that is becoming a rarity. Made a few costly mistakes and gave away some key penalties too.

    - Deacon: 7
    Another the fans love to moan about. Actually played pretty well and is growing into the shirt. Good in the line, solid in the scrum and loose.

    5 - Borthwick: 5
    OK against Wales, nothing better than solid graft thereafter. How does the image of your captain being repeatedly smashed back in the loose effect players? England's lineout, his key strong-point, was not very good throughout the tournament. I thought the side were more buoyant with Moody at the helm and his generic drivel media talks have won him no friends outside the camp.

    6 - Haskell: 5
    As Lievremont said when asked about Haskell: "Non"
    Key chance to nail down the shirt was met with a series of invisible displays after a MOM performance against Wales. Under serious threat from Worsley, Dowson, Robshaw, etc.

    - Worsley: 6
    Does what he does well. Is it enough for a world class flanker?

    7 - Moody: 6
    Lost his autumn form and didn't make his mark on games. Is he a good enough link man / scavenger? England's backrow is unbalanced and putting a former six and distructive player as the openside seems to exacerbate this.
    8 - Easter: 6
    Describes elsewhere as a 'creaking galleon' who just about makes the yards. Provides control at the base and is a decent player but compared pales in comparison to: Harinordorquy, Beattie, Heaslip and Zanni. Is it good enough for England to have one of the least impressive 8's in the tournament? Problem posistion for England. Dowson and Guest to step up. Hopefully Narraway finds some form again.

    Subs - not mentioned:
    Mullan 6, Thompson 6, Lawes 6 (losing form), Palmer 7 (good showing), Armitage - why wasn't he used more?, Hodgson - 6 what did he do wrong?, Youngs - 6 good promise.

  • Comment number 47.

    That's great work, Hookers. Top man. Wouldn't argue with too many of those either. Spot-on re the wingers. Might bump Cole up a point on the basis of starting season as Leicester's third-choice and ending as England's no.1, and still not sure how much he was to blame for scrum woes on Sat. But I'm nit-picking...

  • Comment number 48.

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

  • Comment number 49.

    Tom,
    How can you write that about Ireland and then mention how Riki Flutey shouldnn't have a lions hangover?! Surely you would then have the insight that Ireland can well be excused a lions hangover and yet still be the best placed home nation, would suggest to me that they are most definitely "actually quite as good as many of us thought two months ago"!!!
    O'Driscoll, Hayes, O'Callaghan, O'Connell, Wallace, Heaslip, Kearney, Bowe...You can include a whole lot more for even if you weren't involved in any of the tests simply going on the tour must be a heavier burden than a nice break and holiday in the sun!!!

    Please apologise to Messers O'Driscoll & Co.

  • Comment number 50.

    "Three times in succession England were penalised for supposed infringements at the scrum, but when France transgressed moments later they were let off with mere warnings."

    Realistically, does anybody know what goes on in scrums/rucks/mauls? Or is it just a case of the referee giving whatever he wants? I often suspect it's the latter.

    Much to ponder for Johnson ahead of next year.

  • Comment number 51.

    Tom

    Why is it that when Australian props used to have the heads ritually shoved up their ***** a few short years ago they were labelled by the English as powder-puffs and yet here we are a few years later, the England scrum was going backwards at a rate of knots, Cole folded like a cheap suit... and the refereee was "inconsistent".

    The only thing that was inconsistent was the England scrum... or maybe not... it went consistently backwards when Cole was on but then was consistently solid once he went off... but no, it was clearly the refs fault.

    I also see Johnno wanted to know "how far forward the throw in was"... I didn't know that that throws could only be called crooked if they were "really crooked" as opposed to "a little bit crooked". The throw went forward, the right decision was made, why is anyone complaining about it?

    I thought Lawrence had a reasonably good game. He made a few mistakes but which ref doesn't? All the one-eyed moaning from Brian Moore (most of which was withdrawn after the benefit of a replay) will not change that.

  • Comment number 52.

    Is it just me, and am I the only one who thinks that Brian Moore is one of the most irritating summerisers on TV. Twice on Saturday he has to apologiser to the referee for miscalling the refs awards and the previous Saturday he harly made one positive comment during the 80 minutes.

    Come on BBC get him off and lets get some positive, accurate comments from the commentary teams.

  • Comment number 53.

    "I thought Lawrence had a reasonably good game."

    Even the French aren't saying that, just Welsh and Australians...

  • Comment number 54.

    Hookers

    What calls were you unhappy with? Are you honestly one of those suggesting that Cole was hard done by?

    Do you think the forward throw in should not have been called because the ref and linesman were 1,000m away? Oh, well, maybe it was 20m.

    Are you saying it wasn't crooked?

    Or was it because Brian Moore wrongly claimed that 3 French players were off-side at a maul (but then withdrew his comment once he saw the replay)?

  • Comment number 55.

    As an England Fan it would have beem a travesty for France not to win the Grand Slam, and the fact thaey got a little help from there Kiwi friend is beside the point.

    This was a game between a top ten team and a top 3, and if they can grind out tight wins when they don't play particularly well they will be serious contenders in NZ next year. A well deserved Slam for the best team in the NH.

    More effort needed from the other NH teams

  • Comment number 56.

    I agree with TazFalklands
    I'm not getting involved in a ref argument. France were the best team and totally deserved to win.

    Saying he had a good game though is just being a wum.

  • Comment number 57.

    Out of all the blogs above only one or two focussed in on the frailties of the English pack. I challenge all bloggers to look again at all 4 six nations matches and then tell me the pack were good enough. I have never seen an English pack struggle so much in the tight (particularly the front row); seen and English pack turned over at rucks and mauls so often; seen an English back row go absent without leave so often in defense......unless I am living in a time warp it used to be the pack were great but the backs were lousy. In this championship they have been poor in equal measure!! If the English manager, and one of the greatest forwards ever, cannot see that the English pack are just not good enough then what hope is there that he can understand the weaknesses of the backs. It is time for some fresh, new and younger blood on the coaching team. We need teachers of flair and skill, not robotics!!

  • Comment number 58.

    Not a wind up at all. I don't have any wish to wind anyone up.

    The usual reasons I have seen for the numerous complaints (scrum penalties, crooked throw, one incident of alleged off side) in my view are not sustainable. If he wasn't wrong in those instances... what does that leave us with?

    I respect your wish not to argue about the ref but surely if people want to question a refs competence or integrity, they should back it up with something more that repeating the constant moaning of a clearly biased ex-player with an agenda.

  • Comment number 59.

    Not a wind up at all. I don't have any wish to wind anyone up.

  • Comment number 60.

    This was a great game to watch even if the result sucks! England lost by a couple of poor decisions they themselves made, not the ref. I was at the RWC final in 2003 and watched as Andre Watson penalized Vickery time and again for collapsing the scrum or not binding correctly. Vickers got his game together and we went on to win -- why couldn't Dan Cole and Hartley do it? The French scrum is on a par with the southern hemisphere teams just. England's scrum is miles behind. France won by playing an England game plan and that's fair enough. They knew what was needed to beat us and they applied it well.

  • Comment number 61.

    England did not desrve to win the france game. There was still only one real back manouvre that worked well against france at times but only brought about one try. The french looked nervous and lacked the direction that blew ireland, italy and scotland aside. (The two games france were most nervous about going into - wales, their first 3 in a row under ML, and england - were their worst performances.) Giving england the opportunity to take france apart in the same way as last year. England failed to do this. England also had a game plan and stuck to it despite the change in conditions suiting a tight territorial game.

    The close scoreline should not detract from the pathetic displays we have seen this 6N. Even on the basis of the france game, england are a long way off being a good side.

  • Comment number 62.

    " England's lineout, his key strong-point, was not very good throughout the tournament."

    we had the second best lineout after scotland so why you've marked hartley and borthwick down on this basis i don't know.

    "England did not desrve to win the france game. There was still only one real back manouvre that worked well against france at times but only brought about one try"

    i agree, for all tindalls supossed impact we still didn't really threaten more than before. however the 'backs move' leading to the try wasn't really a move per se, so much as simply putting the ball through hands with an overlap. easy. and somthing we hadn't done up till that point with wilko throwing miss passess or monye not passing at all.

  • Comment number 63.

    Lets be honest all of the 6nation games now are all about the ref and how he decides to impliment the laws of the game on the day.
    If I was a bookmaker I would not take bets on a Rugby Union game its all too much of a lottery know. More like a game of bingo. Pure chance as to who wins.

  • Comment number 64.

    @ Rulchangecrazy

    Not sure you can be so dismissive about the great players in Rugby Union - the likes of Cueto etc really can change games with their own abilities.

    Admittedly the ref plays a part, but thnkfully not as big a part as you suggest. :)

    http://www.weloverugby.net

 

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