France were my pre-tournament favourites and after a dogged defensive display in Cardiff on Friday night they are still on course for their first Grand Slam title since 2010.
The French have been in fine form during this year’s Championship but Friday night saw arguably their worst performance so far, notwithstanding the win. We have come to expect fluent passing and fancy offloads but the gallic flair of the first three rounds was nowhere to be seen. France made an uncharacteristically high number of handling errors – 15, and other than one well-worked try in thefirst ten minutes they failed to cross the whitewash. Relief would have been the overriding emotion following the final whistle on Friday night – although one man who certainly would have been happy with the performance is French Defence Coach Shaun Edwards. The Englishman has built his reputation on ruthless defence and after years spent marshalling Wales to multiple Grand Slams his influence on the French team was clear on Friday in a victory built on line-speed, tackling (France had a 94% tackle success rate) and turnovers.
Wales can be proud of their performance in defeat; they had most of the possession and territory. In the second half they were especially dominant and there was a feeling the pressure exerted on the French would pay dividends. They missed a couple of real chances which could have swung momentum and changed the outcome – Jonathan Davies will be kicking himself after dropping a pass which, if caught, would undoubtedly have led to a try. Time and time again France came up with important tackles and crucial turnovers, holding on for a well-earned win. No team wins a Grand Slam title playing all-out attacking rugby for five matches and if the French go on to win next week they will look back on Friday’s performance with a smile.
When England travel to Paris on Saturday they do so knowing the Six Nations title is now out of reach. Following the loss to Ireland at Twickenham, they now sit in third place on 10 points, with two wins and two losses. There is an asterisk next to the defeat last weekend; the performance England put in was valiant and impressive following the dismissal of Charlie Ewels for a poorly made tackle less than 90 seconds in. England coped well for about 70 minutes, the scrum was particularly impressive and they found themselves on the right side of the penalty count. At one point the scores were level at 15 apiece but it was the last ten minutes were fatigue started to show and Ireland scored two late tries to claim a bonus point and record win at Twickenham, with the match ending 15-32. Facing France at home will be the biggest challenge of the Championship for this England team but one they will be confident in tackling following the spirited performance last weekend.
Ireland have put themselves in a position to win the Championship, as well as the Triple Crown, but will be relying on victory against Scotland and England upsetting France. I have said previously that the Championship would come down to France and Ireland and this Saturday will be an interesting finale to an enthralling Six Nations. My money is still on the French but an English victory is not out of the question. Irish fans will find themselves in a unique position – watching an England match and supporting the men in white. I can’t wait to see what Super Saturday brings.