And so, the season is done. And sadly, it wasn’t a great final week of the international rugby year for the southern hemisphere.
“I don’t think man was meant to attain happiness so easily. Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it” – Alexandre Dumas
This Friday, the resurgent French rugby team takes on Scotland in the penultimate round of the Six Nations.
There are many stipulations regarding the eventual winners of this year’s tournament. France has finally found its identity. They’re evolving into an outstanding rugby team (which the global game needs) seeking a title to vindicate their growth as a collective group in the build-up to the 2023 Rugby World Cup on home soil.
Like Alexandre Dumas’ quote from the eternal novel The Count of Monte Christo, French fans have had very little to crow about over the past few seasons, but their current team are capable of slaying any ‘dragon’ as they seek to bring their fans the happiness they long for.
French rugby has for the past few seasons has been in dire need of some form of direction, losses to Italy and Fiji seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for the French.
Constantly outplayed and beaten soundly by the other tier one nations for neigh on a decade, France was quickly becoming the laughing stock of international rugby. When you consider their player resources, numbers, and the vast amounts of money in the Top 14 league you struggle to try to understand just how as a national team and global rugby superpower it went so badly wrong over such a long duration of time.
The French in their halcyon days were revered for their ‘flair’ and unpredictability in the way they played the game, which during the past few seasons had all but disappeared, however, the French team today is beginning to garner back their ‘flair’ and unpredictability.
A case in point was the breath-taking try they scored off a lineout in the opening minutes of their loss to England a few weeks back, that movement or play is what made the French such a dangerous beast to play against.
They have won the last two U20 Rugby World Cup’s (2018,2019) and I at first thought those youngsters who would be drafted into the senior national team would lose their confidence as they were joining a team who had almost forgotten how to win.
Instead, that youth, exuberance, and vigor brought about a change in fortunes in the national setup, they began to win and win consistently. Fabien Galthié, the former French scrumhalf, took over as head coach in 2020 (serving as assistant coach in 2019) and in the past two seasons, he has overseen an almost complete overhaul of not only how France plays but also their fraternité or brotherhood.
There is a sense that Galthie’ is building something special with this current group of players, there is a clear understanding of how they want to play and go about their business on the field, be it kicking or attacking with ball in hand.
Of course, players such as scrumhalf Antoine Dupont (arguably the most influential player in the world at the moment), in conjunction with flyhalf Romain Ntamak have created a cerebral understanding of when to kick, pass or run, which has got the exciting French backs to showcase their flair and skills in space.
In Charles Ollivon they have a true leader whose mentality is one of ‘follow me’ which speaks directly to the French passion they play the game with.
All signs are pointing in the right direction, however, what would add an immense amount of self-confidence and belief within this young squad would be soundly beating Scotland to add silverware to a group of players fully deserving of such a triumph after years of mediocrity.
The permutations are complicated regarding the overall outcome, in a nutshell, the French need to wallop the Scots by 20-odd points or more and of course score tries in doing so to stop Wales from being crowned champions.
Having come back in such a sensational fashion against Wales over the weekend that should provide the belief they can go and beat Scotland resoundingly to life the Six Nations.
Most importantly for the French will be finding a balance between intensity and calmness when trying to find their happiness by beating the ‘dragon’ at the gate.