In the short term, Brice Dulin’s late try means France have secured a victory to remain in contention for the Six Nations. They now face the small question of scoring four tries and finishing 21 points ahead of Scotland. The two will meet at the Stade de France in the revamped third round match this Friday.
Longer term, this could be the first important step France has taken as they pursue their primary goal – victory at home when they host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
How then did France, a team that had failed to score after the hour in three of their four matches, scored 12 points in the final four minutes to overturn the game and the Six Nations title with a memorable victory?
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Arise, King Charles
Charles Ollivon has only been captain of France for a year. However, how he led from the front against Wales was crucial to the victory.
First, there was the way he played. Always happy to carry the ball and throw himself on the wall of the red jerseys, he finished the match with 49 meters in 14 races. When the Welshman got the ball he was the first to stop them. He paved the way for the Blues with 20 tackles in 80 minutes.
Later, as the game got tougher and France had a chalk try, then Paul Willemse was sent off. Ollivon didn’t push his luck with referee Luke Pearce. He responded with a simple “are you sure” when the red card came out. He kept discussions to a minimum and focused on keeping his team focused on what they had to do.
As the clock ticked it grew again. First there was his test which put France three points behind. Then, with time past the 80-minute mark, Ollivon appeared three times in the move which ended with a Dulin crossing in the corner.
Until the end
In preparation for the match, many, including LWOS, focused on the fact that France had scored only after the hour against Italy. While Wales had continued to live up to their reputation as good finishers. Especially by scoring 16 points in the last quarter against England.
It seemed to go that way until Williemse’s red card in the 66th minute ignited a fire under the French. Maybe it was a feeling of injustice, maybe their pride was piqued. However, their intensity and focus were now there. Even though scoring two tries and a conversion in the last four minutes was a bit of an extreme way to prove a point.
There is a lot of talk about France’s lack of conditioning compared to other leading nations. The Top 14-14 teams is often presented as a reason. The shortened tight season means there is almost no time for French players to get back into shape before returning to the fray for club or country.
However, they will need to put together performances from week to week if they are to triumph in 2023. Saturday’s win will help them show them exactly what it takes to triumph when the pressure hits.
Half-backs = Double Trouble
The running backs traded at some point in the last quarter are a familiar sight in modern rugby. There are very few teams that could do that and know that the pair to come is a game for those who leave.
In the Six Nations, only Wales have similar strength on the bench as the starting 9s and 10s.
So when starting half-ball Matthieu Jalibert left in the first half and was replaced by Romain Ntamack, the Welsh players reportedly looked up and saw the man leading them in tatters in Cardiff last season.
Scrum-half Antoine Dupont lasted until the 73rd minute. However, while his replacement, Baptiste Serin, may not have the instinctive and explosive elements that make Dupont so afraid. He has a cool head and the calm he needs in such a close match.
As time went on, both players received their passes on the money, to the right person and increased the pace as needed. Such depth in two key positions bodes well for 2023.
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Beware of the Scots
Anyone who has seen Braveheart knows that there has always been a strong alliance between Scotland and France. While the Auld Alliance signed in 1295 is more significant than Mel Gibson’s historically dubious biopic of William Wallace, such affable sentiments will have to be put aside on Friday.
The recent form bodes well for France as the victory of the last five seasons has come home. However, none of the wins have exceeded the 21 points that Ollivon and his teammates need at the Stade de France.
One player Scotland will keep an eye on is Gregory Alldritt, the Toulouse-born number 8 whose father grew up in Scotland at the age of 12 and whose brother plays in the Scottish leagues.
He scored twice in the 27-10 victory in Paris in 2019 and was exceptional against Wales. In the process do 70m of 13 races, with 18 tackles over the top.
Further back, Dulin and the Virimi Vakatawa center provide the rapier and the baton. Although a baton with soft and huge hands, able to find his teammates with a pass on the back of the hand.
Dulin ran the most meters, 154m, with Vakatawa second at 125. Plus, they are part of a stable baseline that will likely only have one change when Ntamack replaces Jalibert at the half-fly.
A second Six Nations win would show France can win back-to-back matches. While this is the most likely outcome, they are unlikely to end up with the 21 point difference they need.
Especially against a Scottish team who enjoyed this year’s tournament. They got the boost from five of their English based players who were released to play. They will desperately want to end up in style.
“Main photo credits”
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