Les Bleus complete Six Nations clean sweep with 25-13 victory over England
France win the Grand Slam
Grand Slam. Grand Chelem. Whichever language you speak, France have done it.
Les Bleus rounded off the 2022 Six Nations with a 25-13 victory over England in Paris. Five wins from five and they have won their first championship title since 2010.
The match at the Stade de France didn’t go all the hosts’ way. The third-quarter dip that is becoming an unwanted hallmark of this French team was evident yet again as they allowed England to gain territory, possession and, most crucially, points.
Yet they rode that wave, their defence repelled further attacks and Antoine Dupont, of course, delivered the crucial blow by crossing for France’s third try. The pace and power in their game is difficult for any team to handle – the slowest part of their performance was the time it took for them to get on the stage to lift the trophy after the final whistle!
A word, too, for Gael Fickou, who scored a try, was involved in others and produced a couple of crucial turnovers in defence.
Eddie Jones had picked a team to kick – a lot – but France in general and Melvyn Jaminet in particular had the answers. Yes, Freddie Steward, a standout performer for the visitors, beat the France full-back to a couple of high balls in the first half but England were unable to do anything notable with the possession, instead getting penalised.
Plus, while France kicked less in that first 40, they made more metres, with their long game more effective. England actually got more rewards in the second half when they kept the ball in hand and looked to stretch the hosts.
Fickou crossed for the first try of the game after quarter of an hour. It came from a lineout just outside the England 22 from which the ball was spread wide and Gabin Villiere took play to within seven metres of the visitors’ line.
Villiere was involved again when the ball was recycled, producing a brilliant back-handed offload to Cameron Woki. Then Romain Ntamack fired the ball wide, Fickou picked it up on the bounce and rounded the defender to score.
There were a few other breaks in that first half but the moves broke down with knock-ons. Still, France produced another magical moment in attack just before the break.
Villiere broke through after a great pass from Fickou and in turn sent Anthony Jelonch sprinting into the 22. The attack slowed down before a few quick offloads upped the tempo again, Ntamack made it to within a metre of the line (brilliant tackle from Ellis Genge to stop him reaching the whitewash) and Francois Cros then stretched through a pile of bodies for the try and an 18-6 half-time lead.
England reduced that deficit early in the second half. It all started from a scything Joe Marchant break into France’s 22, with only Damian Penaud’s grip on his shirt stopping him from going all the way to the line.
The ball was then worked wide and Steward got over in the corner with Marcus Smith converting from the touchline to make it 18-13.
The visitors were threatening in and around the 22 a few minutes later only for France to win a crucial turnover penalty – Fickou the man once more.
As against New Zealand in the autumn and Ireland last month, France’s opponents were finding a way back into the game. It is almost a trait.
That is when the noise really started to pick up as the crowd sensed the importance of swinging momentum back towards the hosts.
And how the players in blue responded. Gregory Alldritt delivered a delightful pop pass to Dupont on the 22 and the scrum-half skipped away from Jamie George and Ben Youngs for the third French try. The stands became a sea of waving flags.
England came again in the final ten minutes, creating a few nervy moments for the 15 players on the pitch and the 79,000-plus fans in the stands, but they didn’t have the accuracy to be clinical when the opportunities arose.
As the final seconds ticked on, the sound of La Marseillaise rang around the stadium as the hosts moved ever closer to the long-awaited clean sweep. And those flags were waving again as the final whistle blew. The Slam was theirs.
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