Guinness Six Nations
France 25-13 England
Antoine Dupont, it had to be him. After 12 long years, France’s captain, the world’s best player and the face of this team did what he does best.
An hour had gone, England were threatening and the Grand Slam was anything but in the bag. And then Grégory Alldritt picked and went from a ruck, popped the ball up, and there was Dupont as he always is.
The scrum-half runs support lines like no one else, and once the ball was in his hands, no one was going to stop him. Not Jamie George, who laid a hand on him, not Ben Youngs who did the same. Dupont is just too strong and shrugged them off before racing away.
Melvyn Jaminet converted and it was 25-13, a valiant England had thrown everything they could at France, but there would be no one to spoil this Parisian party, there would be no further scoring. France have been building something special under Fabien Galthié and after finishing runners-up for two years running, this time they got over the line and in style.
A first Grand Slam and a first title since 2010 and it was thoroughly deserved. France have been the standout team in the 2022 Six Nations and have the silverware to prove it.
They had got the better of the first half with tries from Gaël Fickou and François Cros. Despite Freddie Steward’s try early in the second, England had left themselves too much to do, and when Dupont stepped up, the game was up.
England had clearly come with a plan, trying the unusual tactic of dropping Ellis Genge into the backfield to charge back with the ball on the first two French deep kicks.
He took some stopping but it must have been quite energy-sapping with France edging the scrum battle.
They struck first after eight minutes from a scrum, but will have felt they should have got more. Off the back of a lineout, a stunning move saw Fickou put through a huge gap after Damian Penaud had popped up off the shoulder of Romain Ntamack. The centre could not gather the ball, with England’s defence split open. From the resulting scrum, France turned the screw and had the consolation of three points from Jaminet.
If England were dominating the battle in the air, Steward proving particularly dangerous on attacking kicks, it was France who were in control on the deck.
Alldritt, Gabin Villière, Jonathan Danty, Fickou – this France team just has so many weapons that even when England got the ball back in or around the 22, every carry became a gamble.
While they had struggled in the lineout a week ago, they came here with a bag of tricks that they were determined to use. The first try came from another lineout. After the forwards made ground initially, the ball went from right to left where Villière had space to run into. The England defence scrambled well but France were able to recycle at lightning speed. Two phases later it was Villière who dummied and offload, selling Maro Itoje up a river, before finding Cameron Woki. A phase later England had run out of numbers and Ntamack’s bounce pass allowed Fickou to go over in the corner. Jaminet’s conversion went wide from the touchline but France were 8-0 up.
Alldritt then went off his feet at a breakdown, allowing Marcus Smith to get England on the board, before Jaminet shrugged off a nasty mid-air collision with Jack Nowell before making it 11-3 on 24 minutes as England came in at the side of a maul.
Back came England through a second Smith penalty just before the hour, with French handling twice letting them down on threatening counter-attacks.
The pressure told just before the break, the French rhythm in attack rising and falling as they waited for a gap. When one appeared, the offloads from Alldritt and Dupont eventually saw Ntamack through and racing up to the line. Genge did brilliantly to stop him scoring but Cros was on hand to reach over, a hand appearing through the mass of England defenders to dot down on the line. Jaminet converted from the touchline and France led 18-6 at the break.
England needed a fast start to the second half, and they got it. Like New Zealand in November and Ireland in Round 2, France saw a big lead quickly reduced. England opened up France off the back of a lineout, Joe Marchant slicing through the midfield only to be scragged by Penaud. It was only a temporary reprieve, England having too many numbers and Elliot Daly able to put Steward over, the full-back turned winger cutting inside Ntamack to score. With Smith’s conversion from out wide, it was back to 18-13.
The nerves could have kicked in but France got back into England territory and Dupont had his moment, France were back in control.
From 25-13, England worked their way back into the French half and maybe could have mounted a comeback if Alex Dombrandt had managed to get the ball down when he got over on a charge. He was held up and England never threatened again.
This was France’s night. A night the fans have spent more than a decade waiting for. The atmosphere at a packed Stade de France was electric and their team delivered a victory the nation longed for.