Despite a new head coach, new captain and a vastly young and inexperienced squad, France continue to defy the pre-tournament rugby betting. With three wins out of three in the tournament so far, they’re favourites to win the Championship and could even make it a clean-sweep of victories.
Should they be successful, it would mark exactly 10 years since Les Bleus last won the Grand Slam and interestingly, the celebrations would take place on home turf, at the Stade de France once again – as France host Ireland in their final fixture. Let’s delve into the history books and look back at the 2010 Six Nations Championship.
France began their campaign off to a flyer, easing past Scotland at Murrayfield. Although the Scots went ahead, it wasn’t long before France hit back, in what was, an intense affair. As the first half came to a close, France stepped up a gear and held a commanding lead. The second half wasn’t as free-scoring with Scotland rarely providing an attacking threat and France happy to keep possession. Not only was it a fourth opening-day defeat for Scotland at the Six Nations, but two years earlier at Murrayfield, France were victorious in Marc Lievremont’s first game in chance of Les Bleus.
In round two, France completely dominated the Grand Slam holders Ireland in their clash in Paris – largely thanks to Morgan Parra’s attacking exploits. Two conversions and a penalty from the scrum-half helped France to a 17-3 lead at the break. The second half carried in similar vein, with France’s territorial advantage telling and Ireland unable to breach such a tight defence. The winning margin was a comprehensive 23 points, with Les Bleus celebrating with a lap of honour.
The manner of victory in round three was tight, although France were hugely dominant at the Millennium Stadium. It was a thrilling clash, in which France raced into an early lead – 20-0 at the end of the first half – to keep their Grand Slam dreams very much alive. But buoyed by the carnival atmosphere in the stadium, with the roof closed, Wales staged an almost almighty comeback – Stephen Jones with two early-second half penalties and Leigh Halfpenny adding a try after the hour. But the French remained resilient and even a late Shane Williams penalty couldn’t complete the fight back, as the visitors ran out 26-20 winners.
An emphatic victory in Paris followed, as France obliterated Italy with a triumphant display. An Imanol Harinordoquy try and a brace from David Marty in the first half gave France a commanding lead. Another three tries in the second half added to the demolition, despite Italy attempting to grab late consolations through Carlo del Fava and Pablo Cannavossio. Not only did Les Bleus limit Italy in terms of attacking options, they posed a constant threat to their back-line and proved here that not only are they good value Championship winners, but worthy of completing the Grand Slam.
All that stood in their way were England, who’d had a mixed bag in the tournament: two wins, a draw and a loss. It was a much-improved Red Roses side, but one that was not strong enough to deny France of the Slam. Leading 12-7 at the break, France were pushed all the way and while England dominated the second half, they were only able to record three points, courtesy of a Jonny Wilkinson penalty – and France held on. It was their toughest test of the Six Nations, but a 12-10 victory landed them their ninth Grand Slam.
Welsh fly-half Stephen Jones finished as the tournament’s top points scorer, with 63, while Parra finished behind him in second place, scoring 61 points across the five matches. Parra was instrumental to France’s success, despite never originally being a first-choice member of the squad. Then 21 years of age, the half-back had made his debut two years previous and quickly took the mantle as goal-kicker. His performance against Italy was a joy to behold.
In terms of top try scorers, four players led the way with three tries – two Irish players and two Welsh. Of the seven names that recorded two tries during the tournament, there were three French players. Mathieu Bastareaud, Yannick Jauzion and David Marty featured in all five of France’s fixtures. Bastareaud scored both of his tries in the round one match against Scotland, while Marty’s came in the fourth-round tie against Italy. In both cases, only one of the two tries were converted.