“Les Bleus s’imposent dans le choc du Tournoi.” Really, the shock of the tournament?
I don't think any Irish fans travelling to Paris would have seen a six point win for France as a shocking result on Saturday, so let's assume that this Le Monde headline is using the alternative meaning of 'choc', namely 'clash', showing just how delighted the French public was with the outcome, and by default how much respect they have for this Irish team. Le Parisien after all made it very clear how they viewed Ireland as "one of the main contenders for the Six Nations title."
Unsurprisingly, plenty of focus was placed upon France’s immediate purple patch that threatened to blow Ireland away from the opening whistle. To jog the memory, Antoine Dupont latched onto a Romain Ntamack offload to open the French account with less than two minutes on the clock.
As Midi Olympique’s Vincent Bissonet put it, it was “almost too good to be true.”
Elsewhere, writing for Le Monde, Clément Martel pointed to the jubilant mood in the Stade de France when Dupont crashed over so early. However, a touch surprisingly, he is of the opinion that the spectacle did not live up to the expected billing after that breathless start.
“After seeing Antoine Dupont dashing over with the opening whistle barely blown, going to open the scoring in the Irish in-goal area, the 80,000 spectators in the Stade de France could think, just for a few moments, that a dazzling game of rugby awaited them. That was not the case.
“The French XV defeated Ireland on the Saint-Denis turf on their second outing of the Six Nations during a ‘rough and tough match’, according to backrow François Cros.”
It looks like Martel is mistakenly equating a player account of contest’s brutal physicality with a negative spectacle. No matter, he clearly displays his respect for Andy Farrell’s side while at the same time highlighting an impressive trend when it comes to how France are able to start big games so well.
“Facing a team on nine consecutive wins, with gleaming mechanics in their meticulous rugby, the Blues knew what awaited them. But as in the autumn against the All Blacks, they unfurled their game plan in a first period of which they were in total control.”
Speaking of trends - or the lack whereof - we can all remember the now forlornly distant chatter of Ireland’s near impeccable discipline against Wales in the opening round. This time around, as Midi Olympique’s Léo Faure helpfully points out, it was the French side that got on the right side of the referee Angus Gardner.
“Facing a team that held onto the ball and put plenty of intensity into the collisions, the French deserve immense credit for their discipline. Even when under pressure, they completely controlled their nerves. At the end, only seven penalties were conceded (11 for Ireland). And no player gave away more than one penalty.”
The same publication goes onto talk about the impressive nature of the French defence. If he read the papers, Shaun Edwards’ ears would be burning.
“The Blues’ victory rests mainly on two factors: a thunderous start to the match (10-0 after seven minutes of play) and a defence that was on fire, which also allowed them to resist the Irish waves until the final whistle.
“However, after a successful opening act, France suffered. In the end, possession belonged to Ireland (54 per cent) but there were only three line breaks through the blue defence.”
Thierry Dusatoir, the legendary French backrow, offered his thoughts to l’Équipe. No mug at the breakdown himself back in his day, the former captain highlighted the importance of French supremacy at the ruck to the result.
“In one sense, France used their head more than their limbs… by slowing down exits from rucks, by tackling the ball, by always holding the ball carrier off the ground, by showing their aggressive attitude in the middle of the park.
“Ireland wanted to construct their game by hitting the gain line hard, but they found themselves countered in the collisions and at the breakdown, and that gave them less space and less freedom to develop their game.”
Dusatoir’s colleague at l’Équipe, Renaud Bourel, sums up what victory means for France’s long-term aspirations, given they are hosting the 2023 World Cup of course. He flirts with making some incredibly grand predictions roughly 18 months out from the tournament.
“It’s a sweetness that we no longer hesitate to serve to quality guests. At 17 months out from organising the huge quadrennial festival of rugby at home, it is important to signal that we know how to host. France are unplayable at home. It is no longer a vision of the mind, it is a statistic (13 victories out of 14).
“Unless you believe that the Earth is flat, the debate is closed.”