Six Nations Round-Up: France Dominate With Italy Agonisingly Close

6 02 2011

What a brilliant opening weekend of Six Nations rugby, beautifully topped off by a coruscating France Scotland match at the Stade De France late (UAE time!) last night. There was something for everyone this weekend with a purists encounter in Rome almost giving Italy their first win over a poor Irish team; a fast game of running rugby to please the masses and of course the more limited but still exciting England win at the Millennium Stadium.

France 34-21 Scotland

Scotland will be looking at the score line with a slightly bemused expression although it would not surprise us if there was a major dose of relief in there too – it could conceivably been much worse. On one hand Scotland can be extremely pleased with some of the things they did; their backs and back row forwards all showing that the much quoted criticism that they cannot threaten opposing defenses is false. Thinking about it, it has not been since the days of Gregor Townsend that we have seen as much threat as this from the Scots going forward – of which of course they can be proud.

Yet it was their misfortune to come up against a French side at home, on the rebound from an appalling defeat to Australia in their last match and clearly out to make a statement. This they did from almost the first five minutes when after all the opening possession had gone Scotland’s way, a turnover ball meant that suddenly the irresistible Maxime Medard was over under the posts.

Medard was brilliant all night and surely has to be the first choice winger going forward for France. His strength, pace and awareness are simply world class and we hope he doesn’t fall victim to Lievremont’s raffle style selection policy.

Probably the scary thing for the rest of the Home Nations (and possibly even for the Kiwis who have Les Bleus in their World Cup group) is that there is room for some serious improvement still. Elements of their play were still not as efficient as it might be, the odd pass going astray or simply being dropped – something that meant that perhaps a further three opportunities to score went begging.

France though were not all about pace and passing; their scrum in particular was exceptional, regularly troubling Scotland and winning a penalty try. Scotland did sort themselves out towards the end of the game in this department, yet, for a side who are themselves known for their scrummaging power to be so dominated will cause serious worry for Andy Robinson, not mention Martin Johnson, Warren Gatland et al.

Richie Grey, Scotland’s 21 year old lock, despite the Scotland pack’s travails, must get a mention for an all encompassing performance and can conceivably be disappointed not to receive the man of the match award – despite finishing on the losing team. Whether it was going forward ball in hand, making extraordinary cover tackles or simply competing in the loose, it was a performance that announced the arrival of a major new talent.

After the opening three games of the tournament you would have to say that France have, yet again, played themselves into the position of favourites, with the only potential banana skins being away trips to Dublin and Twickenham. They still don’t travel particularly well much of the time, but one feels that, should they be able to replicate this form, they will be sitting atop of the table after the final weekend.

Italy 11-13 Ireland

This was agonizingly close for the Italians. They were three minutes and one dropped restart away from what would have been a famous and first win over the Irish. Who knows what would have happened, but, following Bergamasco’s missed conversion, had Italy been able to gather the ballit is likely that Ireland may simply have been squeezed out of the game. In the event though Ireland seized on the ball and Ronan O’Gara, after some excellent approach work by the Irish pack, knocked over a straightforward drop goal to win the game.

This had been a poor performance by the men from the Emerald Isle. True they did show some adventure and pleasing passing moves in several periods throughout the game showing that all is not lost from an Irish point of view, but Kidney will be worried about their inability to finish off moves. On several occasions they got close to the Italian line only for a knock on to scupper their efforts.

Italy should be praised however for their efforts. Yes it is true they played with little ambition until later in the piece, yet they sucked Ireland into a bruising and tight battle which at the very least they offered parity. Parisse was again excellent and we could not help feeling sorry for him at the end of the match. It must be a frustrating thing to be a world class performer in a side that rarely wins.

While on the subject of number 8’s, as excellent as Parisse was for the Italians, Sean O’Brien was also on top form for the Irish. If they can find a way to accommodate both him and Heaslip upon the Leinster man’s return, the Irish back row will assume genuinely fearsome ball carrying proportions.

For the Italians there is a genuine base to work from however and we hope that this performance will inspire them, providing a springboard into a Six Nations campaign that gives them a couple of wins and avoids the wooden spoon.

Ireland too can regroup knowing it wasn’t a disaster yet that they will have to improve significantly to meet the challenge the Frances and possibly even the Englands will provide. Fortunately for them these matches are both home fixtures meaning that with a little luck things could still fall into place for them.

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9 responses

6 02 2011
Jonathan

Was left with my chin on the floor in the first half of the Scotland match, the French just beasted them in the scrum, unbelievable stuff.

French looked good. It was a belter of a game between the though, more rugby played in that one match then the other two combined.

I am just confused by the Irish, they’re just not clicking and its a shame.

It’s great to see Parisse back in the game. The Italians have missed him greatly.

Good first weekend, much to play for! Come on England, need a good performance against Italy before the French arrive.

Finally, when is this mess at scrum time going to get sorted out? The ref’ing is a joke, flip a coin and see who gets penalised, and all refs have different tempos on the engage. Must be hell for front rows not knowing when to go down.
Why don’t we go back to the days of the front row binding then second rows come in, then back row. Get all settled and the ball gets rolled in STRAIGHT! this is not rugby league!

6 02 2011
phildange

As a Frenchman I wasn’t happy during and after the Scottish game . There’s something wrong . This stunning friability in in defense is horrific ! I understand the Scots may have improved but not that much. After the strainer les Bleus have offered to the Oz I find that too much. They lost their union, and it could be seen in attack too. Because even if they scored 4 tries, how many breaks, how many offensives did they spoil for a hand error, a bad passing or a forwards failure .
So the mayonaise is tainted . Chief Lievremont seems to have screwed the sauce he had started well. But if he can’t build a harmonious collective machine he could give the genious a go . I often say : the only super creative backlines we have, the only able to create an attack from a mediocre situation, and able to drive it right to its conclusion, are Toulouse ones. Poitrenaud, Clerc, Médard, Jauzion . Plus another one, depending on his form ( Mermoz was OK those days ).
The unexpected sparks of danger in this game came from Médard, and when he came in from Poitrenaud .
This little Huget… I saw him in second half being blocked on his wing and I thought ” Waw, if Clerc had been in…” Traille and Rougerie were not bad, but they weren’t that good .
If France lacks of collective intelligence like this, and if they have not all their cracks to score by pure class, they will loose their spirit quickly, and it can be a rout for them in Twickers or Dubin, or anywhere .
I was very annoyed after this game, and I’m afraid Lievremont will go on navigating without visibility .

7 02 2011
Bradders

I hear what you’re saying Phildange and agree that Lievremont will continue in the random fashion he has done so far. It was funny because this time last year it looked like he had settled on a team and was driving them forward well – now he has gone back to the old ways.
I think your wings should be Clerc and Medard personally too.
Still – the French team are lucky to have such a spread of talent – even if they are not the ones you would pick yourself. Some of the play, even despite the dropped balls and knock ons, was breathtaking.,
Merci for commenting!

7 02 2011
Nursedude

At this point, I would agree that France’s performance against Scotland has to make them a favorite with England to win the Six Nations. If the Scots actually would have shown some patience with the ball, the result might have been different. A couple of the French Scores were off converting lost scottish posession, and in loose play, the French can be lethal.

I was blown away by just how badly the French front row blew Scotland away-and Murray is a pretty good tight head prop, but he just had a nightmare first half.

7 02 2011
Bradders

True about France – its what I mean when i said how scary it was how much they could improve. Scots weren’t bad at all but still suffered by comparison to the french. Scrum was truly unbelievable – Murray as you say is no mug! Thanks for commenting

7 02 2011
diogenes

Lieveremont is a complete mystery. Why did he not just roll out last year’s back-line? Are Bastaraud and Jauzion suddenly bad players? Why put Traille at full-back when you have Poitrenaud available? Why play Rougerie in the centre when you have Traille, Jauzion, Bastaraud. The odd thing is – well it’s not really odd, it is totally understandable – is that when Poitrenaud came on and Traille moved to the centre, France began to play better. With lievrement, you would expect him to put Poitrenaud at fly-half and move Trinh-Duc to full-back or something equally deranged. For all the attacking flair they displayed, their tries came from loose play by Scotland rather than by anything they themselves created.

8 02 2011
Bradders

Agree completely, hadn’t really considered that angle although I always think its perverse having Traille at full back. For me any side that leaves Jauzion out either has an embarrasment of riches or is simply badly selected… Probably the latter. Still lots of improvement to come which worries me!

7 02 2011
phildange

@ Bradders
I don’t know if you can get French channel Canal +, but they show a good deal of Top 14 games, and I recently discovered the new Perpignan backlines, all French and not well known, and I was bluffed . I was thinking ” Hey I would fancy the whole of them from n° 10 to 15 in national team ” . Well I’m not sure for their defense ability but for attacking skill they were a pleasure to watch .
Canal + and Canal + Sport are encrypted channels you have to pay for monthly . They show a lot of rugby as well as English, Spanish, Italian football, Wimbledon tennis open and a lot of SH rugby games too ( Tri Nations, Currie Cup ) .

8 02 2011
Bradders

We do get some of the Canal channels here but haven’t spent anytime watching them. Will have a look.
It should be an exiting year for French rugby although Lievremont might be the problem as you say… Cheers

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