With the Northern Hemisphere season now done and dusted till September, we hand out our verdict on the Six Nations Competitors and what we feel they got out of their year on a score out of ten.
We’ll be the first to admit it’s completely subjective based on what we saw and where in our humble opinions it leaves the teams heading into the 2018/2019 season, with the added twist of the World Cup being only a year away once England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales get back to business in September. We highlight the match we most enjoyed from each of the teams and we try to pick the player who made the greatest contribution to their national cause over the past season as well as the player that we feel is most likely to catch the eye in the next. So take from it what you will but without any further ado let’s get into it in Part 2 where we take a look at how France fared.
France – 6/10
While like Italy, France were often short on results, they put in some stellar performances and certainly in the Six Nations, surprised most of us. France were subjected to a coaching change at the start of 2018, as Jacques Brunel was appointed to take over from Guy Noves, after a poor run of form by France in the November Internationals. As most regular readers of this blog know, we didn’t rate Brunel during his tenure with Italy, but we have been forced to eat our words for the most part this year, as France certainly looked sharp in the Six Nations, and despite finishing without a win on a three Test tour of New Zealand, they caused the All Blacks plenty of problems, even when forced to play for most of the second Test with only 14 men.
As already mentioned, France will want to forget the opening salvos of their season in November, as there was no question that they played poorly. They struggled to gain any traction in their opening Test against New Zealand, despite the All Blacks perhaps looking a tad weary. Their next encounter was with South Africa, in what proved to be a very messy and unattractive game from both sides. South Africa were also waiting for the axe to fall on outgoing Coach Alastair Coetzee’s head, and French Coach Noves could clearly see the knives being drawn for him as well. In a scrappy encounter, South Africa edged out Les Bleus by one point. With Guy Noves clearly on his way to the nearest exits, France struggled against their final November opponent Japan, and could only manage a draw.
The end of November saw the finish of Guy Noves’ short lived reign in charge and Jacques Brunel, the former Italian Coach appointed to the role. As mentioned earlier, we were slightly bemused by this decision to say the least, having being seriously underwhelmed by Brunel’s track record with the Azurri. Consequently, we expected to see France duking it out with Italy for the Wooden Spoon in the Six Nations. Instead we were made to eat humble pie.
France opened their Six Nations campaign with a thriller in Paris against Ireland. In an exceptionally tight and physical match, Ireland were only able to snatch victory at the death, and an impenetrable French defence kept the Irishmen well short of the try line for the full eighty minutes. Furthermore, it would only be France who were able to cross the whitewash, through some truly dazzling footwork by one of their genuine superstars, winger Teddy Thomas. France were unlucky to say the least and what a different Six Nations in might have been had not Irish fly half Johnny Sexton swung the match in Ireland’s favor with a last-minute drop goal, and ultimately set the Men in Green on the road to the Grand Slam.
However, it was clear that there was a snap in the French step again, and French flair in attack seemed to be making a comeback, allied to a superb defensive effort. Next up they travelled to Scotland and produced another thrilling spectacle which they were unlucky to lose. Scotland had to draw on every ounce of their ability to get the win, but poor French discipline in the final quarter of the match was France’s undoing.
France then got their first win of the competition, as they dismantled Italy in Marseille, especially in the second half. It was this match that clearly set them on the right foot for their encounter with England in Paris. We had a sneaking feeling that this would be the one match that France would really turn up for in the Six Nations and we were not disappointed. It was a fiery and determined French performance in which, once again, their defence proved superlative.
France put in another gritty performance against Wales in their final encounter of the Six Nations, in which they lost by a single point, but took solace in the fact that despite only two wins in the tournament they would ultimately finish ahead of England in fourth place.
From there it was off to New Zealand for a daunting three Test series. French touring sides at the end of their season have been traditionally poor, and most pundits, ourselves included had written them off against the All Blacks. What surprised everyone, including the All Blacks, was that this was a French side that never gave up, despite ultimately being comprehensively beaten in all three Tests.
In the first Test in which they suffered their heaviest loss, they can take enormous heart from the fact that at half time they were actually in the lead. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, the referee’s whistle seemed to be consistently and in many cases controversially biased against them throughout the series, which didn’t help their cause. Despite this, they simply never gave up as epitomised by their performance in the second Test. For us, despite France coming out on the losing side, this was their finest performance of the year and highlighted just how competitive in the face of enormous odds this new look French team can be. France were forced to play with only 14 men for 68 minutes, after fullback Benjamin Fall was given a controversial red card for a high tackle on New Zealand’s Beauden Barrett. Despite this setback, France came at New Zealand continuously and actually outplayed the All Blacks in the second half. However, sadly for France, New Zealand capitalised on their early advantage and left the French with too much to do, despite some real heroics on the field. The final Test however would be a bridge too far for France by a significant margin. Nevertheless, it still didn’t prevent France from playing some exquisite attacking rugby at times, and throughout the series they managed to produce some magical moments. While they will have been disappointed with losing the series 3-0, their attitude throughout and skill on show should give them plenty of confidence to build on for their preparations for the World Cup.
In short, it’s been a mixed bag for France this season, but there is no getting away from the fact that they have shown the beginnings of a real renaissance in French rugby. They once more have a powerful, mobile and dangerous forward pack, allied to some genuinely exciting backs who are clearly putting the flair back into French rugby. While their half back combinations still need some work and definition, there is plenty of talent coming through the ranks in this part of the field. To add to their cause in the half back department, veteran scrum half Morgan Parra showed that there is plenty of life left in this seasoned warrior that France can draw on for Japan. Although they only won 2 of their 11 matches this season, they ran many of their opponents far too close for comfort. Consequently, France are back and mean business and we can’t wait to see what they can do in 2018/2019.
Match of the year – New Zealand vs France – Wellington – June 16th – New Zealand 26/France 13
Although many thought that their win against England in the Six Nations was the highlight of their season, for us this match was France’s finest display despite the loss. It was a determined and at times sublime performance by France in the face of overwhelming odds. Furthermore, it epitomised the new never say die attitude of this next generation French team as they battled courageously a long way from home with just 14 men for 68 minutes against the best team in the world. regardless of the result the second half performance by France is the stuff of any Coach’s motivational video library!
Player of the year – Teddy Thomas
This was an exceptionally difficult call as so many French players stood up and were counted this year. However, it was the French winger’s ability to score some truly exquisite tries this past season that sees him get the nod, especially as he was the definition of the return to “French flair”.
Player to watch in 2019 – Kelian Galletier
We have liked the look of the 26-year-old French flanker, ever since he burst onto the scene for France in 2016. He epitomizes the new look French back row which has started to become increasingly dangerous in the last few years with the likes of Wenceslas Lauret, Yacouba Camara, Marco Tauleigne and Kevin Gourdon alongside him. His work rate in the second Test against New Zealand this June was utterly outstanding and expect him to be a real leader in the making in this new look French side in the coming years.
We’ll end this report card with some highlights of France’s best match of the year against New Zealand, in which they showed us that France are not to be trifled with even when the odds seem set against them. The French effort in the second Test against the All Blacks was absolutely outstanding and definitely rang the alarm bells for their pool opponents in next year’s World Cup, one of whom will be England whose cage they have already rattled this past season.
To be continued – up next Scotland!