Aat least all fans of France will be able to witness this year’s late-night ending at the Six Nations from the comfort of their own homes – alas, not in Paris curfew bars – rather than facing the desolate journey of the Stade de France at 11 p.m. local time. But an echo stage, after the watershed, beyond the Peripheral, is just the kind of final that all of our sports have been doomed to lately.
At least we are guaranteed some meaning in the disrupted 2020 Championship final match between France and Ireland – and we’ll know how much depending on England’s previous result and score in Rome. Chances are, the mission for both sides will be to win and to win well. In theory, bonus point apologists would say, this will make a great game.
Further support for this prediction comes in the immediate form of contenders, albeit limited to proof of one match each. Both teams are making a forced change to their starting XVs, with Arthur Vincent coming for France to replace Teddy Thomas and Robbie Henshaw for Ireland after Garry Ringrose broke his jaw against Italy last week.
Ireland’s seven-try victory in Dublin was the only standout game in the Six Nations’ fourth round. The extra point harvested there is what gives Ireland the edge over France and England in the bonus point lottery, with Andrew Conway’s late scoring against Wales in Dublin meeting the arbitrary standard. of a fourth attempt. France and England could only achieve three respective victories against the Welsh.
Ireland also retains a significant advantage in the age-old and perfectly reasonable standard by which to reward effort: points difference. This means that victory alone may be enough for them, even if England registers the expected bonus point in victory against Italy.
Granted, Ireland’s mission looks cleaner – and their odd habit of building towards the scores they need makes it eminently achievable. Cian Healy will win his 100th cap and is part of an Irish squad that seems familiar and experienced where it counts. Henshaw’s introduction hardly weakens them, while at No.8 and half-back the Irish are in the hands of the toughest old pros.
Who shines the spotlight on France. They haven’t always liked it but, other than a predictable flop at Murrayfield in the fourth round, they have been the stars of this championship so far. Their first home victory against England, as Stade de France rocked as it will not be this weekend, set the tone. The precision of their half-backs unlocked the World Cup finalists and the stubbornness of Shaun Edwards’ latest masterpiece of defensive organization has hinted at new depths for the French. The story that unfolded in Cardiff in the third round had the same theme, as did last week’s warm-up victory over the same in Paris.
From now on, France will be put to the test by familiar enemies under extraordinary circumstances. They haven’t given much thought to these opponents in particular lately, beating Ireland just once in the last nine. If they can negotiate the demand for a victory and by enough to win the title, we will have a new proposal in this latest generation of Les Bleus, fit to host the next World Cup, in three years, where hopefully , the circumstances will have returned to something. as usual.
Fabien Galthié, France’s final roll of the dice as head coach, certainly tried to harness the energies of the extraordinary in a moving appeal to his locked nation on the eve of the game. “We are no strangers to what is going on around us,” he said, “with people, friends, loved ones, artisans, farmers, caregivers who are on the verge of suffering. We have nothing to complain about playing in an empty stadium, because we know that behind this empty stadium, there are millions of supporters who will grow up with the France team, while waiting for a moment of communion, to be happy with them. Our hearts go out to the children who cannot play, to all the amateur rugby clubs who cannot play. We want to tell them to hold on. We will play for them. It is this message that drives us. “
If France can play with as much emotion as Galthié speaks, there may still be a twist in the extraordinary season of rugby.