Du Pont and co, on the verge. (Getty)

France could slam Engand to take the Six Nations Title

by LIAM BOTHAM

(Image: Getty)

Time flies when you’re having fun, and the 2022 Six Nations delivered its customary thrills and ups-and-downs this year, with a number of disappointments in the mix but also, as predicted, a clean sweep for the high-riding French squad.

Well, it’s an almost clean sweep of course – France are just a game away from glory and a rare Grand Slam success. They’re playing in Paris in front of their home crowd on ‘Super Saturday’, tomorrow, so they have everything going for them. Les Bleu haven’t lifted the Six Nations trophy for 10 years and getting their hands on it at the Stade de France is viewed as an important step on the road to next year’s Rugby World Cup.

It’s do or die for England, or perhaps more specifically for Eddie Jones. For all the head coach’s talk of ‘new England’ during this championship, of a revolutionary attacking style, we haven’t seen those promises delivered upon.

But whatever’s happened under the Jones reign so far, and whatever will transpire in the weeks following this contest, this is truly fascinating as a standalone contest because England face the embarrassing prospect of finishing mid table again, with France literally tasting a ground-breaking victory, the odds for toppling them so close to the finish line are stacked against England.

How will England approach this match? Can they save face when they’re down on their knees and waiting for a final kick in the teeth? If not for a gritty display by their front row last week – especially the two props Sinckler and Genge, who I thought had his best game in and England shirt – I believe 14-man England would’ve received an even heavier punishing by Ireland, and they have a mountain to climb to improve on that.

By the looks of it, Jones will be trying everything he can to disrupt the French at this late stage. He has changed a third of his team, some changes due to injury and others selection decisions. His biggest call is George Furbank starting at full-back. it seems a somewhat strange decision to shift Freddie Steward, so reliable under the high ball, to the wing and bring in Furbank for his first involvement of the championship. Ben Youngs starts at scrum-half with Harry Randall deemed to be more suited to come off the bench this time.

Up front, Will Stuart gets the nod ahead of Kyle Sinckler at loosehead, Nick Isiekwe replaces the banned Charlie Ewels in the second row and Sam Underhill comes in openside for the injured Tom Curry.

Jones said, however, that England will be focusing on their own game: “We get to play in a game where France have had a great Six Nations and we want to finish the Six Nations strongly, so it’s about creating our own party rather than spoiling France’s.”

France’s head coach Fabien Galthie seemed confident this week, saying: “In terms of experience we are approaching our 25th Test together and it is our third Six Nations and we have lived through a lot. These players now have a collective experience together, they have grown a lot in two years. We have learnt from our defeats, our runners-up places in the tournament have taught us an enormous amount.”

France were moderate against a gutsy Wales outfit last week. With Antoine du Pont uncharacteristically poor and the rest of his team lacklustre, I believe Wales should’ve beaten them. But proper rugby teams win matches like this, even if they play well below their best. I think France have finally crossed the divide from excellent also-rans to potential world champions. I foresee them winning the Grand Slam in style, on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Andy Farrell has made three changes to his starting XV for Ireland’s Six Nations match against Scotland on Saturday. The team need to secure a win over Gregor Townsend’s men to be in with a shot of winning the trophy. Here are the permutations that come into play:

France are outright winners if they beat England.

However, if they lose or draw (without scoring four tries for a bonus point) against England, and Ireland beat Scotland earlier in the day, the Irish will lift the trophy.

Ireland lost to France earlier in the tournament but have a better points difference than Les Bleu. So if the two teams finish level on match points – say France draw with England and Ireland beat Scotland without securing a try bonus points so both sides are on 20 – the Irish would top the standings due to their better points difference.

If Ireland lose or draw (without scoring four tries) against Scotland, France could lift the trophy even if they, too, lose to England. They would just need to finish within seven points or score four tries for a bonus point to take them to 19 points.

Yet if France took nothing from their match with England and Ireland get two losing bonus points (four tries and finishing within seven), Ireland would take the title on points difference.

For Scotland, the most disappointing team of the tournament, the contest will be a chance to go out on a high note and gain momentum into the next stage of their World Cup build-up, but Ireland know that a bit of luck in the week of St Patrick’s Day can swing the Six Nations in their favour. Scotland face a heavy task, and a potential nightmare if they go into this, half-heartedly.

Ireland’s match is first up, kicking off at 4.45pm at the Aviva Stadium, so the French will know the various ramifications when they kick off in Paris.

***

I have an interest in the Stormers vs Cardiff match in Cape Town on Sunday. My boy Jimbo scored a lovely try in Cardiff’s 20-37 loss against the Lions last week and his confidence is high as he continues his quest to get back into the Wales national side, where the old guard seem intent on staying with older players instead of giving younger combinations a chance. Cardiff are still underperforming, I hope they get into gear against Steven Kitshoff’s Stormers – a hard test but they are capable of winning if they get some of the little things right.

We take a break in the premier league and go back to the Premiership Cup this weekend, where most teams give the fringe or academy players a go, so it’s very difficult to know what strength teams the clubs will put out.

I fancy Newcastle can spring a surprise over Leicester in a Group stage match today. Newcastle’s Head coach Dave Walder commented: “I don’t think it will take much for us to turn things around. It all starts with one win, and Friday is the opportunity for us to make that happen. We’re in great shape for the longer term with the quality of players we have coming through the system, but for that immediate hit of confidence we need to be winning in the here and now.”

Until next week!

*Extracts and permutations, thanks to rugbyworld.com

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