TWO rounds have gone and already there are signs of what to expect from the remaining three, with England being the most consistent and truly commanding in winning against Ireland away and last weekend against France in southwest London.
The highlights by England in both were the way they used the kick and chase to good effect and both opponents failing to deal with these kicks deep in their half. Of the six tries England scored against France, five were from tactical kicks while against Ireland, the first try was from a kick ahead so early in the game plus another later.
The other aspect of the England game that gave the team much comfort was the blistering start in both matches. No doubt very early and a situation that can give opposing teams ample time to recover but some teams have been known to not recover and remain rattled for the rest of the game due to pressure from so early on. France looked exactly that and went on to trail by 22 points at the interval. It wasn’t just the margin but also the way England had complete control of the game by that time.
With Scotland going down at home to Ireland, England and Wales are the only teams with a chance of winning the Triple Crown or the Grand Slam and Wales is also feeling upbeat after a record-equalling unbeaten run of 11 matches following the 26-15 win over Italy in Rome last weekend, unconvincing though it may have been.
But the attention since the weekend has been more on France and all for the wrong reasons.
They are now ranked a lowly 10th the world rankings, a drop from the average 7th over an extended period a few years ago.
The defeat to England was France’s seventh in a row at Twickenham in the last 10 years and the margin the worst since the 37-0 defeat in their first Test at the same venue in 1911.
The six tries conceded means that France has now let through 33 tries in the last eight games – an average of 4.1 per game.
The knives were in fact out by some of the country’s best names in rugby before the England game, with coach Jacques Brunel seen to have failed to turn around what was a dismal run in the two years the team was under Guy Noves after the 2015 World Cup.
Many reasons were offered by these former players, all agreeing that it’s due to a combination of factors. There was also the view that Brunel and his assistants have not given the younger players more game time and France does have some exciting young talents from their world-winning Under-20 team.
However Brunel and his team cannot be blamed entirely for this because many of these youngsters are also given limited game time by their clubs, most of which have far too many foreign players – many of them former internationals.
The next game for France in a fortnight is in Paris against Scotland, a team that showed some promise last year but is struggling with inconsistencies. The last defeat at Murrayfield against a not very clinical Ireland was further proof of this.
What is being anticipated by the pundits is a player revolt in the French team, the way the players did against coach Marc Lievremont during the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand where France lost by a point to the host in a tense final.
That revolt took place after the team had lost 19-14 to Tonga in a pool game but may have had a hand in helping the players to an unlikely final because they also lost a pool match to the All Blacks.
The situation was calmer four years later in London but there was hushed-hushed talk that the same happened to coach Philippe Saint-Andre after a trouncing by New Zealand in the quarter-final.
Yet despite all these disruptions, France has been beaten finalists at three World Cups, the best ever by a northern hemisphere team so far. But those were the times when they had players like Serge Blanco, Jean-Pierre Rives, Fabien Galthie, Emile Ntamack, Fabien Pelous, Olivier Magne, Raphael Ibanez and Christophe Dominici to name some.
The country still produces some brilliant talents but there’s something that’s preventing the brilliance from shining through.
Veteran scrumhalf Morgan Parra alluded to this after the England game and remarks by flanker Arthur Iturria strongly suggest a lack of confidence as they look to the Scotland game.
Hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado sounded like there was nothing the team could do to stop the offensive from England.
In short, the vibes from the players have all been negative.
The question now is whether the French Rugby Federation will take heed of the sentiments from the players and take the drastic step of sacking Brunel and his assistants with time to prepare for the World Cup limited.
Apart from the remaining three games in the Six Nations, France will have three warm-up games in August to prepare for RWC 2019 and by most reckoning that’s just about enough.
However there may be those who feel that with such a poor run during which France has so far lost eight of nine games there is little to lose anyway even if wholesale changes are made to the coaching panel.