IFunny how the wheel turns. Once upon a time France who was the big puzzles; now it’s the red rose fans who shrug their palms up and wonder which England team will appear. A long time ago The Blues He came to Twickenham with a better balanced lineup or, even more unsettling, one with such clear potential for further improvement.
Perhaps their hosts will spring into action and extend France’s dismal Six Nations record across the English Channel from the upside-down day in 2005 when, 17-6 against at halftime, Dimitri Yachvili’s boot secured. an unlikely 18-17 win. It is far more likely that France, if the recent Covid-19 outage allows it, will underscore the growing gap between teams in terms of front foot confidence and genuine attacking enthusiasm.
A glorious replay of 1991, when France launched one of the most daring raids seen on Twickenham from behind its own posts to set up Philippe Saint-André’s famous attempt at the other extreme, is asking too much but, 30 years later, the scent intoxicating. of Gallic ambition floats again in the air. Since Thomas Castaignède shone so much outside of Philippe Carbonneau in Wales’ brilliant 51-0 demolition at Wembley in 1998, two French mediators have headed to London for a championship match accompanied by such high expectations.
Everyone already knows Antoine Dupont, nicknamed the “mini Jonah Lomu” by former French hooker Benjamin Kayser this week. The Toulouse scrum-half, still only 24, has it all: the strength, the daring, the acceleration and, increasingly, the presence that comes with being recognized as the best No. 9 in the world. For now, slightly less attention has been paid to Dupont’s escort, Matthieu Jalibert. By the time the 2023 World Cup rolls around, the Bordeaux-Bègles fly-half could also be the 10 most influential on the planet.
Take, for example, this assessment from Jalibert’s former Bordeaux head coach Rory Teague, who was also England’s skills coach with Eddie Jones in 2017. “You have a very interesting player there,” says Teague, who remains in touch. with his previous position. “There were elements of his mental resilience that reminded me of Owen Farrell: he is very tenacious, very motivated and demands a high standard. However, it also has that French flair, that stardust that you don’t see often. His change in speed, his ability to scan a defense, see a gap early and exploit it is quite impressive. It’s great to see how it’s evolving. “
Jalibert, 22, also seems to have timed his arrival on the international scene to perfection. Look around the world and halves racing is becoming more and more in vogue, as Scotland coach Gregor Townsend noted. “I see fly-halves who are running backs are more effective in the game than ever,” Townsend told BBC 5 Live, citing Beauden Barrett and Richie Mo’unga in New Zealand and Finn Russell himself from Scotland. “These are players who attack the line. In stalemate, you have your first chance to take on the defense. The more you pass the ball, the more a good defense will close you, but if you have that running instinct it will serve you much better than five or ten years ago ”.
With the talented Romain Ntamack returning from a bench injury, Virimi Vakatawa returned to midfield and Gaël Fickou added a more low-key class and defensive organization, creating an intriguing contrast to England’s more conservative selective focus and efforts by forced attack on the tournament to date. . Ball shortages and spiraling penalty counts have clearly done them no favors, but generally speaking, England’s first instinct has been to kick first and think later.
Tough on George Ford and Owen Farrell, maybe, but France seems to be much further down the boulevard towards the coach’s holy grail: a team capable of massive dents up front, play included, threatening both in the ruck and in the outside. and to intelligently kick out of control. “The French like to play instinctively and are probably less pragmatic, but that side of their game is developing,” warns Teague, who also worked with Dupont’s substitute Baptiste Serin during his time in Bordeaux. “They like to keep the ball alive and play space; getting the ball in contact and hitting the ground is not your first thought. What’s more: ‘How can I manipulate a defender, can I face him and keep the ball alive?’ ”.
With Shaun Edwards also having instilled more organizational steel, Charles Ollivon’s leadership style proving popular and Brice Dulin generally safe and secure under the high ball, adds to a powerful challenge for an England team that screeched home, a bit fortuitously, in an extra sudden death. at which point they faced a weakened French team in the Fall Nations Cup final in December.
With the same referee Andrew Brace in charge again, England’s 14 penalties in Cardiff will undoubtedly ensure that the referee controls the hosts more closely this time around. England believe, however, that they can easily eliminate the handful of silly penalties they cost them against Wales and Jones is in no rush to sit back and lull the exciting runners heading towards England. “You like to talk about attack all the time, but we know that test rugby is won by defense. If our defense is correct, that will create opportunities for our attack. “
The problem with that pragmatic analysis is that France, who admittedly played one game less, have conceded only two attempts to England’s seven so far. It’s easy to see Luke Cowan-Dickie bringing close-range intent, while Maro Itoje has a point to prove, but England will also require Kyle Sinckler at close head and Billy Vunipola at No. 8 to underscore their Lions quality credentials.
In short, Jones’ team will have to comfortably deliver their best performance of the tournament to stop France’s momentum towards a first Six Nations title since 2010. “We have always known that France is a sleeping giant of world rugby, but now they they have awakened. ”Teague says. The next time someone jokes about which French team will show up, the answer is obvious. Very good.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism