Saturday’s Six Nations game between Ireland and France now unlikely
Scotland end French hopes of a first Grand Slam in a decade with a 28-17 win at Murrayfield
Mohammed Haouas of France punching Jamie Ritchie of Scotland during their Six Nations match at Murrayfield, Edinburgh. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
The prospect of the 2020 Six Nations finale between France and Ireland, scheduled for the Stade de France next Saturday, proceeding as scheduled remains highly unlikely as France banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people to try and contain coronavirus.
The French government decree comes after the number of deaths in the country rose from 11 on Saturday to 19 on Sunday, when officials also confirmed the number of cases now stood at 1,126.
On Friday president Emmanuel Macron warned an epidemic was “inevitable” in the country.
As it is the championship cannot be won next weekend even if the France-Ireland game does ultimately go ahead, after Scotland ended French hopes of a first Grand Slam in a decade with a 28-17 win at Murrayfield on Sunday.
While Ireland still have to beat both France away and Italy in their rearranged game which was postponed last Saturday at the Aviva Stadium to have a chance of winning the title, the odds on them winning in Paris next Saturday, were the game to go ahead, have probably improved.
Not only have France’s Grand Slam hopes been quashed, but they have lost their talismanic scrum-half Antoine Dupont due to a shoulder injury and most probably their concussed out-half Romain Ntamack.
The scale of Scotland’s win against a previously unbeaten French team reduced to 14 men in the 37th minute by the sending off of tight-head Mohamed Haouas has actually moved England to the top of the table on points difference fractionally ahead of France.
Although Scotland also moved above Ireland to third in the table, the winners of the 2020 Six Nations (presuming it is completed) will be one of three teams, namely England, France or Ireland.
In many respects the equation has not changed for Andy Farrell’s team, who were always going to need to win their final two games anyway, and Ireland still require a victory over France away next Saturday presuming the game proceeds.
In that scenario unless they beat France with a bonus point, Ireland would draw level on 13 points with both England and France, and the title would then be decided by the rearranged Ireland-Italy and Italy-England games.
In effect, it would be a case of whether England or Ireland (who have a points difference of +5) racked up the bigger winning margin against the Azzurri, and there would be a huge advantage for whichever team played Italy last as they would know their exact target. That would be a less than satisfactory climax.
Alternatively, as France now have a marginally inferior points difference compared to England (+13 to +15), they know that whatever target they might set in beating Ireland, England would only need to match it in their rearranged game away to Italy in order to win the championship.
Effectively England are now in pole position in every way following their 33-30 win over Wales at Twickenham on Saturday. After six years without a sending off in the championship, this game was also blighted by a deserved red card for Manu Tuilagi for launching himself like a human missile as George North ducked for the try line, despite Eddie Jones maintaining Ben O’Keefe’s decision was “complete rubbish”.
For their part France’s Grand Slam hopes began to unravel from the fifth minute in Murrayfield on Sunday when Francois Cros was yellow carded by New Zealand referee Paul Williams for tipping Grant Gilchrist onto his head. Within three minutes France also lost Ntamack to a head knock.
Although a wonderful piece of vision by Dupoint for a try by the recalled Damian Penaud briefly put Les Bleus ahead, their goose was pretty much cooked when Haouas, their 25-year-old Montpellier tight-head playing in his fourth test, was red carded in the 37th minute for punching James Ritchie.
The abrasive Ritchie, by comparison, could be seen smiling after getting away scot free, so to speak, despite being the main agent provocateur for racing 20m to exacerbate the mass scuffle. Somehow, the four officials all managed to overlook his involvement, which certainly merited a yellow card.
A Sean Maitland try then left Scotland 14-7 ahead at the interval, and the New Zealand-born winger’s second within four minutes of the resumption made it 21-7. At one point early in the second half, the penalty count was 11-4 in favour of the home side.
The revised bookies odds on the destination of the 2020 title underline that England were the big winners both on Saturday and Sunday. Jones’ team are now 1/4 favourites to win the title, with Ireland at 4/1 and France having drifted out to 10/1.
However fanciful it may seem, two bonus point wins for Ireland would guarantee them the title. Whatever about that, although France can still win their first title in a decade in the increasingly unlikely event of next Saturday’s game going ahead, a late Saturday night game in the Stade de France looks a little less daunting.
Whenever it takes place Les Bleus no longer have a Grand Slam in their sights, as was the case for Ireland when they went to Cardiff on the last Saturday a year ago.
Furthermore, whereas the Irish squad might have a two week build-up to next Saturday’s game were it to go ahead, France’s six-day turnaround also reduces the likelihood of Ntamack completing the return-to-play protocols.
Furthermore, Haouas is likely to face a suspension, while France’s talismanic scrum-half Dupont, who had a cruelly unlucky day, has been ruled out of the game against Ireland due to the shoulder injury he sustained against Scotland.