At the Stade de France,

For their last outing at home before the big world rally, Saturday against Wales, the Blues wanted to offer their supporters something to wait for the next six months. Five tries, first-hand play, school combinations recited in ballet mode, a sharp conquest and a scorer as precise as a sniper… A week after the orgasmic beating of Twickenham, the XV of France still gave eat to the good people by crossing the bar of 40 points. But it wouldn’t have been funny without some big air holes, too, which allowed the Welshmen, certainly more dashing than in recent weeks but aging cousins ​​of the winners of the Tournament in 2019 and 2021, to register four tries. You have to leave with a few things to think about.

“We wanted to play a good match, have fun and finish well in front of our supporters, summarizes Charles Ollivon. This is important before switching to something else. The Tournament finished in second place behind Ireland, winner of England at the start of the evening, it is now the World Cup which will occupy the full mind of the French. The famous arrow of time unleashed by Fabien Galthié when he took office in 2020 sees his target.

“Give us time to end our stay together”, still claims the coach, who has planned to let go of his players only this Sunday noon. Time to say goodbye in due form. The next time that all these people will see each other, it will be for the final stretch towards the opening match, September 8 against New Zealand.

The Irish threat

This prospect, of course, was one of the topics of discussion in the dressing room after the meeting. “We projected ourselves a little, it will pass quickly I think, notes Thomas Ramos. It’s true that in the last matches here, we felt the excitement rising. The public can’t wait to be there, so are we. We will return to the club but this World Cup will be in the back of our minds. »

In this absolute quest for a first world title in the history of French rugby, these Blues will be able to rely on solid references. Granted, they saw their unbeaten streak evaporate last month in Dublin. But there is nothing scandalous to lose against this team from Ireland, world number 1 and that nothing seemed to be able to prevent from picking up the fourth Grand Slam in its history. Besides, it never hurts to bring home a little work from time to time.

“Tactically we were less precise there than in England for example. That’s what cost us the game, Ramos believes. There are a lot of things to take, not to reproduce if we want to beat them next time. “No choice anyway, if the running board is respected, the Sexton’s boys will stand on the road to the Blues from the quarter-finals at the World Cup.

Above all, this snag had the great merit of restoring order to the game plan. After winning the last Tournament and then beating Australia and South Africa in November by tapping like deaf as soon as they had the opportunity to better put pressure on the opposing camp (the game of “dispossession”), the French had suddenly got it into their heads that they had to raise by hand at all costs from their 22 (the “repossession” ). We caricature, but the loss of collective benchmarks had been flagrant, already against Italy at the opening.

“We are more square in our intentions”

Since then it is back to basis, with risky raises that can be counted on the fingers of one hand during a match. Thomas Ramos, always, confirms our impressions: “This failure made us question ourselves. We are more square in our intentions. “But be careful, “to hit to hit, that’s not the goal, reminds Fabien Galthié. Kicking the ball is always reading the spaces available. From this point of view, the last three meetings have reassured everyone. “We have won 17 of our last 18 games, recalls Cyril Baille. We also have to tell ourselves that we have a lot of room for improvement. »

For winger Ethan Dumortier, the big lesson is that whatever the style of play chosen by sequence, you should never stay in half measures. “I have the impression that we did not attack thoroughly, we were not at 100%. We changed that, we put a lot of density back on our first hands and it paid off, judges the young LOU player, who went from rookie to owner of number 11 on this Tournament. In general, when we are able to pose the situations and keep the ball, we know that we are able to undermine a lot of teams. »

Ethan Dumortier (right) and Romain Ntamack (left) congratulate Uini Atonio on his try during France-Wales, March 18, 2023 at the Stade de France.
Ethan Dumortier (right) and Romain Ntamack (left) congratulate Uini Atonio on his try during France-Wales, March 18, 2023 at the Stade de France. -AFP

This Tournament has completed revealing the extraordinary offensive potential of this team, a permanent threat to the opponent, effective, carried by a Toulouse connection which works at full capacity in the heart of the animation between Dupont, Ntamack – author of a huge game against Wales – and Ramos. The French rear on the blackboard:

“We used to play together for a while. I take control from time to time in 10, and Romain finds himself in the position of first attacker. It smiled on us today [samedi] because Romain had breaches that opened up thanks to that. This connection is almost natural for us. When two players can animate the game, it also helps our forwards and relieves the centers who can devote themselves to their tasks. So it’s a good thing because it benefits the whole team. »

“We are definitely the team to beat”

The mechanics still have progress to make, of course, especially in the management of weak times and defensive discipline. “We had to adapt to new rules, and we still need to improve our defense, to better understand these new directives”, knows Fabien Galthié, whose team has nevertheless gone from 18 penalties conceded during the first game in Italy to six in the last. But the overall balance sheet is good, very good even for the coach, who pulls out the stats machine: “We have had 80% wins for four years [16 en 20 matchs], I think that in the history of French rugby it has never happened. »

We expected no less from the former scrum half, who will have left his mark on these four years with his sometimes cryptic language, his data and his fads like common experience. Illustration again on Saturday evening: “We started at an average of 8 selections in February 2020 and four seasons later we are at an average of 26 selections. I would have liked to have a good ten more but it was not possible. For the health of the players and the balance of the seasons, that’s the best we could do. »

Enough for the quest for the Grail next fall? In any case, if we try to remember the state in which the XV of France was in October 2019 after the pitiful elimination in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Japan, we would have to be damn bad to complain. “We are certainly the team to beat, says Galthié. We have an impressive win ratio, a defeat in four years at the Stade de France, against Scotland when the match was won (23-27 in 2021). I hope the other teams fear us. “Anyway, there was never any question for the coach to hide.

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