I am really looking forward to this weekend’s fascinating game between France and Scotland with the outcome of the Six Nations resting on whether Les Bleus can win by a margin of 21 points and with a bonus point.
The French have finally started to not only play with panache and verve but also to see out tough games and win with narrow margins in a way that England used to do. The investment which French rugby has put into the game is finally paying off and in the key roles at scrum half and fly half they have world class talent in spades.
When Jalibert went off against Wales you could imagine the disappointment when the Welsh team saw his replacement Ntamak coming on to replace him. And Dupont is peerless, with an ability that matches and surpasses the World Cup winning Faf de Klerk.
Wales has been accused of being lucky in this tournament which is unfair as they have shown remarkable resilience in both defence and attack with huge tackle numbers and points scored. But, what luck the Welsh had appeared to have ran out with a narrow but justified defeat by France. With the clock in the red the French backs held their nerve and went over to not only win the game but to keep their hopes of winning the Six Nations alive.
Meanwhile Scotland, admittedly against the plucky Italians last weekend, showed again their promise as a rugby nation but when the key moments came in other games against better opposition they did not take their chances. That is the difference in elite sport, it is fine margins and none of the home nations have really appeared to be in control and the ascendancy when they are in the Red Zone, however many points they may have scored and efficient they have been.
According to the QBE Risk & Reward Index France has scored highly on the performance indicators which win games – line breaks, offloads, defenders beaten, collision success and effective kicking. And they also scored highly in defence by limiting the number of tries and points conceded, which historically has been more of a problem for French teams.
So what is going to happen this weekend, will the French continue their resurgence and claim the Championship crown or will the Scots deny them the resounding victory they need?
One clue might be in the fact that Gregor Townsend will not be able to play his preferred team as English Premiership clubs are not obliged to release players as the game falls outside the official Test window. Scotland has only picked five Premiership players including the talismanic Stuart Hogg but not Sean Maitland.
It sometimes appears that Stuart Hogg (and occasionally Finn Russell) can win games on their own for Scotland by the sheer force of their personality and ability. However, a full strength French side definitely has the ability to put Scotland to the sword and win the game with enough tries and points to claim the Championship and show that the team is back as one of the best sides in the world.
My heart says that the French will be able to claim the blue ribbon but my head says that Scotland will be able to keep the points difference below 21 and gift the Welsh the Six Nations trophy. Whatever the result the Six nations will have a new Champion for 2021!