France have tonight lifted the RBS 6 Nations trophy after clinching an eye-catching Grand Slam in their hardest match of the tournament at home to England in Paris. The hosts eventually won 12-10 in a very close game of rugby.
England will be disappointed not to have upset the nervy French team, who never once played the attacking rugby they have shown in the tournament, as they had a couple of opportunities to land a killer blow in a second half which saw only three points – from the boot of Johnny Wilkinson of England.
England had opened well, by scoring a fine try in the corner through new full-back Ben Foden, who was making his first start in a test match. His Northampton teammate, fellow debutant starter, Chris Ashton had shown tremendously quick hands to flick the ball to his left to set up the score. Toby Flood, in for Wilkinson, added the two points.
Nine of France’s points came in the first half from the boot of Morgan Parra, several following penalties for scrummage infringements. Dan Cole was penalised on a number of these occasions, and was taken off at half time by England coach Martin Johnson.
The other three points came to Trinh-Duc, who managed to score an awkwardly struck drop goal which should probably have been charged down – the French stand-off took a long time to strike the ball, which would prove to be the difference come the final whistle.
In the second half, the English scrum was shored up somewhat, though the French props Servat and Domingo continued to bore in and make it very difficult for England to make any sort of drive in the scrum.
Despite this, England were the only side looking likely to score in the second half, and the new winger Ashton will rue spurning an excellent opportunity – England were four on one – by deciding to chip instead of committing the French full-back.
France are worthy of their Grand Slam for the four matches prior to this one but, had they lost tonight as they deserved to, they would surely point to nervous players and poor tactics at the critical moment. If France are to claim the World Cup in 2011, or even retain this tournament next year, they need to learn how to win big matches. On tonight’s evidence, England are in the ascendancy: their new wing and full-back look like they can make the step up to international level well.
Yet another RBS 6 Nations 2010 rugby game went against the run of play here. England will be a little disappointed to consider that they have been within four points in three games of a Grand Slam of their own. Close matches, handling errors, and poor finishing have marked this tournament from all teams apart from France – until tonight – but this tournament, and the French Grand Slam, was won and lost in the front row.
Apart from this evening, France have been a runaway success in this tournament, as their points difference will attest, and their Grand Slam provides Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland and Italy something to aim for next year: all of those teams have indicated that they are capable of winning matches against any of the other five nations, so France can expect an even tougher battle next time round.
Those with a cockerel on their breast should enjoy this moment: it is rare.