England champions – but France headed for bright future


n the end, neither France nor Ireland took the Six Nations title in Paris. England celebrated in Rome, having pipped France – who put on a fine show to score four tries in beating Ireland 35-27 – on points difference.

Ireland needed to win by seven points, France – more improbably – by 31, including four tries. Neither achieved that, handing England the title, but they did put on a fine game in tricky conditions, with some lovely tries and flashpoints. Until kick off in Paris, Super Saturday had been a dreary affair. In the evening, it finally lived up to its name.  

For a developing France team, there is no title to show for a breakout campaign. But if they continue on this path, that will happen. Their wondrous half-backs, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, both of whom scored and created tries, were superb, but there is so much more to this team than that. They have big, skilful forwards too and a home World Cup in 2023 might just be well timed.

France were the first to light up a seesawing first half. Dupont, their starlet at scrum-half, finished a fine score that was made by a beautiful burst down the left by Gael Fickou. Ntamack converted for a 7-0 lead.  

Moments later, though, France were on the back foot, with full-back Anthony Bouthier sent to the sin-bin for deliberately slapping the ball out of play in the in-goal area as Hugo Keenan tried to gather Johnny Sexton’s neat kick. Referee Wayne Barnes decided that Keenan was not certain to score, so it was simply a penalty, which Ireland sent to the quarter.  

The visitors were forced to be patient as they hammered away in France’s 22 with Bouthier in the bin. Eventually, 90 seconds before his return, Cian Healy went over, following Ben Youngs in scoring on his 100th cap. Sexton converted, then put Ireland in the lead with a penalty.  

That lead lasted just four minutes, because Barnes was presented with an even simpler opportunity to present a yellow card – and, this time, a cast-iron penalty try. When Jacob Stockdale, not looking the steadiest at full-back, fumbled Francois Cros hacked towards the line and hared after the ball.  

Caelan Doris took him down, gifting France seven points. He spent the final 10 minutes of the first half off the field, and Ireland will have been grateful to go to the break at 17-13, with a penalty for each side while he was away.  

The trouble for Ireland was that, after the break, France hit their straps. Ntamack scored a lovely try that saw strong work in the build up from Bouthier, winning an aerial battle, Fickou, running and chipping ahead, and of course Dupont, flicking the ball back inside. Ntamack added the conversion, then kicked two penalties and suddenly France’s lead was 15 – with almost half an hour remaining, it briefly appeared possible they could pull off their improbable task.  

Despite their increasing dominance at the set piece, that sense was kiboshed when when Robbie Henshaw mazed his way through six defenders to score a wonderful solo try, which Sexton converted, but France were not done yet. Ntamack chipped and chased to set up a try for Virimi Vakatawa, perhaps the best of their tries.  

At the bitter end, Stockdale crossed for a consolation score, the final act of an entertaining game and the longest Six Nations.

Coverage in association with QBE Insurance. QBE Insurance helps businesses build resilience through risk management and insurance. For more information go to QBEEUROPE.COM

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