I found myself in the strange position of being an England rugby fan in Paris wanting France to win a game of rugby against them. I was last in Paris in February 2020 when I saw this ‘new’ French team beat England in some style, the gap was only 7 points but this young France team were a sight to behold.
A moment of madness in Edinburgh saw a punch thrown and a red card brandished for Mohammed Haouas – that in effect threw away any chance France had of an elusive Grand Slam, England had the better points difference in 2020, with Italy being key in the eventual winners, in scoring 22 to France’s 35, whereas England profited from a 29 point difference. The Championship was England’s, in 2021 there was no Grand Slam, but Wales bettered France to lift the trophy. Having won the tournament in 2020 England finished a poor 5th in 2021.
Before the tournament started my feeling was that France would win, but there would be no Grand Slam, I was very happy to be proved wrong. A look at France’s results
- France 37 Italy 10
- France 30 Ireland 24
- Scotland 17 France 36
- Wales 9 France 13
- France 25. England 13
Ireland scored 24 Tries to France’s 17, but 9 of those were scored against Italy who lost their replacement Hooker Hame Faiva on just 18 minutes, after a high tackle on his opposite number. The fact Faiva had replaced the starting Hooker meant uncontested scrums and Italy losing a second player for the duration. Braam Steyn was then shown a yellow card on 74 minutes, which saw Italy finishing the game with 12 men. That result meant that Ireland were in a good position to win the Championship had England won. I imagine the whole of Ireland were supporting England in Paris!
This England team scored 8 tries in total, but 5 of those were against Italy, that was just 2 tries before the solo try scored in Paris on Saturday evening. Yet, with their 3rd place finish in 2022 apparently the RFU are happy and ‘encouraged by the solid progress’ – 3 tries! and 3 losses for the second year in a row. The RFU have a very different view of progress to me!
On to sing the praises of the Grand Slam Champions – I was in Cardiff to see Wales run France very close, they closed their game down, with most of the action taking place in the middle of the field. That win, was one for Shaun Edwards, formerly of Wales, the WRU wouldn’t give the man a 2 year contract, so on to France he went. And his input has been the last ingredient France needed to become the team they are, his mark was all over the French win against England in 2020. This is a man who’s never been given a sniff of a contract with the England RFU, I wonder if both unions watch and regret? If they haven’t, they really should be!
This wasn’t a classic French Flair performance, but it was definitely one deserving of the euphoria at the end of the game. England had seen their own red card against Ireland, with Charlie Ewels being shown a red card for a poor attempt at a tackle in the opening minute. They battled well for the majority of the game and were within 6 points at half-time, but Ireland pulled away in the second half. That match saw some forced changes with Nicj Isiekwe taking Ewels place and Sam Underhill replacing Tom Curry, who left the fray before half-time.
I, somewhat mistakenly thought Underhill had played barely any rugby this season, but a check back through what’s been a nightmarish season for Bath so far, tells me he left the field 3 times within 15 minutes of the game starting, with the last time that happened being the Bath v Leinster game on January 22nd, having previously played just 11 minutes of the Bath v Gloucester game on December 26th. The only other top flight rugby for Underhill, a player who can be a superstar, was the 57 minutes he played against Bristol on March 5th. He felt like a real gamble to me, but in his 65 minutes he made 20 metres and 17 tackles. The highest tackle count on the England side.
Ellis Genge, the Prop, just to clarify, was second on the metres run, with 78, England’s tactic of him taking the ball from most kicks down field and running it back, was a clarification of his fitness, but a strange tactic. And one that ultimately didn’t lead to much at all. Melvyn Jaminet was given an early penalty opportunity which he duly converted. France’s first try was scored by Gael Fickou, my first trip to the Stade to watch England was in 2014, Fickou came on as a substitute in a game England were winning, he took that win away with a great try, this one was taken in some style in 2022 too! I make no apologies for the raft of photos.
The atmosphere at Stade de France is electric at all times in my experience, when there’s a Grand Slam after a 12 year wait, it was truly brilliant! One of our neighbours had been drinking with friends all afternoon, so he went flying when the try was scored, a little dangerous when we were only 2 rows from the front of the top tier, hopefully no one was hurt by his exuberance.
Jaminet had unusually missed the conversion, and Marcus Smith kicked 2 penalties successfully, one on 20 and another on 30 minutes, England were staying in touch. Ellis Genge prevented Romain Ntamack from scoring with a great intervention but Francois Cros was on hand to dot the ball down. The teams went in at half-time with the scores on France 18 England 6.
Action photos from the first half
Freddie Steward, who I thought had the 15 shirt nailed on for years to come, played on the wing, he’s a tall back 3 player and did well when challenging for the many balls put up for him. That seemed to be England’s only tactic when searching for a try. That came good early in the second half as Steward scored England’s first and only try of the game. Saracens’ Elliot Daly had replaced Jack Nowell on the other wing on 26 minutes, prompting 2 England fans to ask which was his best position? For me that’s outside Centre, a spot he’s featured in rarely for England.
It was inevitable that the try of the game should be scored by the sublime Antoine Dupont, both Jamie George and Ben Youngs got a hand to him, but he wasn’t going to be stopped. There was something so right in this man scoring the try that cemented the Grand Slam for his country.
The stats make for some interesting reading, England had 55% of the possession and 56% of the territory, but they weren’t able to translate that inti points. Naturally the stadium erupted at the final whistle, it was a pleasure to see this French team lift the Six Nations Trophy. The 2023 World Cup takes place in France, they must go into that amongst the favourites, especially with an Autumn win against the All Blacks under their belts too.