Six Nations blog: French left feeling bleu

italyfrance300x200by Rob Berkeley

There are some sporting events you can rely on.

International football matches can be more dull than your post-Loveshack Thursday 9am. Spectators regularly doze off at the Masters snooker, and some boxing bouts can be over in the space of a round.

But the Six Nations never disappoints. It is an unfailing festival of passion and patriotism. Even when the Italians succumb to defeat year-on-year in British capitals, the action rarely loses momentum.

There lies the undercurrent of defiance; the promise of revenge.

The opening act of this year’s tournament brought just that. Roared on by 67,000 at the Stadio Olimpico, the Azzurri dispatched the mercurial French 23-18, repeating their historic victory of two years ago.

Led by the ever-present Sergio Parisse, the Italian pack have always stood tall, but this time they were joined by a resurgent back division under man-of-the-match Luciano Orquera. On this form, they may yet set the cat amongst the pigeons again in future weeks, and will fancy their chances against a Scottish side solidly defeated by the English on Saturday.

Scotland were punished by the unerring boot and new-found flair of Owen Farrell at Twickenham, and know that dominating the contact area will be key against a combative Italian lineup.

Internationals are rarely won playing on the back foot; the Scots must compete up front if they are to provide their dangerous-looking back three with ball to test the true credentials of the Azzurri.

While Tobias Botes and Orquera are unlikely to become the new Dominguez and Troncon, Scotland must disrupt their prosperous partnership early on at Murrayfield if they are to avoid a very familiar scenario.

The English travel to Dublin, where they will encounter an Irish side who saw off champions Wales despite a dubious second-half display. This is undoubtedly the pick tie of the round, with huge match-ups all over the park, and will play a significant role in the narrative of the competition.

Stuart Lancaster will surely be tempted to select the returning Manu Tuilagi in an effort to tame the threat of an evergreen Brian O’Driscoll, but will be reluctant to drop Billy Twelvetrees after an exceptional debut.

A trip to the hostile Stade de France does not appear an ideal tonic for Wales’ opening defeat, and despite an improved second-half display in Cardiff, the negative air around their injury-hit squad is difficult to ignore.

Welsh defence coach Shaun Edwards has seen his blitz tactics questioned this week, and these looks certain to come under further scrutiny against French giants Fofana and Bastareaud, particularly if Philippe Saint-Andre recovers his marbles and picks Francois Trinh-Duc at 10.

Rob Howley is under pressure to prevent his side slipping to their ninth consecutive Test loss, but this will be easier said than done against a French outift – and public – eager for retribution.

Each game could genuinely go either way. It is a tournament like no other.

Predictions:
IRE v ENG: England to win by three
FRA v WAL: France to win by seven (*unless Michalak plays)
SCO v ITA: Scotland to win by less than seven

Photograph: Matteo Pieroni

One thought on “Six Nations blog: French left feeling bleu

  • Ah oui Monsieur Berkeley. La France est très triste.

    Reply

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