France secured the Grand Slam with a 12-10 victory over England in Paris.
It promised to be one of the great Test matches of the year, particularly since the oft debilitating effects of pressure weren’t a factor. Ireland’s earlier defeat to Scotland meant France were already Six Nations champions coming into the match, and as a result one braced for an open, flowing contest, with caution being a concept banished from the game plan.
However, the match was spoilt by pedantic refereeing from Bryce Lawrence and consistent and at times torrential rain, which affected handling and ensured the attacking ambitions of both sides were undermined.
Given the perilous conditions it was no surprise that conservatism marked play, with neither side wanting to make errors in their territory, and this translated into a plethora of tactical punts and drives up the middle and around the ruck fringe.
The rain ensured that the bludgeon was preferred to the rapier as a means of attack, and some of the defensive hits, as well as the brutal scrap at the shove and breakdown, was in itself beautiful.
François Trinh-Duc kick-started the scoreboard by landing a drop goal, but England struck the first decisive blow, driving up powerfully through the phases before shovelling the ball wide to Ben Foden to score. Toby Flood added the extras.
That’s as much as England saw of the ball for the first half, as France settled into their groove, and didn’t allow their visitors to do so thanks to some granitic defence that compromised their visitors’ ability to recycle quickly. Furthermore, Les Tricolores progressively began to assert their superiority at scrum time, resulting in England conceding a number of penalties in that facet of play.
Morgan Parra had missed his first attempt at goal, but was clinical in capitalising on England’s ruck and scrum ill-discipline thereafter – his three penalties taking France down the tunnel 12-7 ahead. What followed was a clash of desperation and pragmatism, the latter ultimately emerging victorious.
As they had in the opening quarter, England started brightly, controlling the ball through numerous phases and managing to get some speed on their recycle, which troubled France. However, they failed to convert their possession and territory into points until Jonny Wilkinson, on as a substitute to change England’s fortunes, kicked a gem from the touchline to reduce the deficit to two points with 13 minutes to go.
However, France, sensing England’s urgency switched on and began to slow proceeding to a stroll, setting up phases after phase in their quest to run down the clock. The tactic succeeded and France held on to register a famous victory.
By Ryan Vrede