Six Nations wrap with an All Blacks (and French) twist
James Mortimer 18 Mar 2013 Getty Images
This is a sentence that carries far more danger for the All Blacks than it would if Les Bleus had claimed a Six Nations Grand Slam in emphatic fashion.
Ah France, once again you show your remarkable qualities as the great Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde of world rugby.
Their ‘wooden spoon’ is the first French award of such notoriety since the Six Nations began with the inauguration of Italy in 2000, and only their fourth since arguably the most massive conflict in human history, the Second World War.
This award, something that the Six Nations committee does not recognise with a formal trophy, is something that will make All Blacks coach Steve Hanson even more nervous than if the Tricolours had won the tournament with a Grand Slam.
The 2011 Rugby World Cup runners-up, but a tournament record one point loser against the eventual champion All Blacks, will arrive in New Zealand with their once again confirmed tag of the great chameleons of the 15-man game in the finest of health.
To rate the World Champions chances this early in the year would point to overwhelming favouritism if some bookmakers were to be believed, but history has proven consistently that the French have a blatant disregard for form, even if it is only a few months apart.
A 20-point loss in pool play for France against the 2011 Rugby World Cup host nation turned into a breathtaking one-point loss in the final, while the nightmare, by many All Blacks fans perspective, 18-20 loss against Les Bleus in the 2007 tournament, came after the Al Blacks recorded 31 and 41 point wins early that year.
Let us not also forget that the French victory at the 1999 Rugby World Cup came after New Zealand defeated them 54-7 in Wellington earlier that year.
When it comes to form, considering that Les Bleus had whitewashed the Wallabies, Pumas and Samoans to end their 2012 calendar, France were considered favourites to win the Six Nations alongside England, who of course had conquered the All Blacks in Twickenham in that stunning win to the Red Rose.
Some might deem the French issues to be nothing more than a few selection concerns, with some questioning why it seems that enigma Fred Michalak seems to be the only first five-eighth in the selection frame, but at the same time the likes of Wesley Fofana shows that the freakish backline talents we all know France possess are still in evidence despite a bottom of the table finish.
Others might suggest that the hugely intensive Top 14 season doesn’t help French players, while the French Federation, clubs and other representatives will meet in the coming months to discuss the relationship between the highest tier of domestic sides and the Test team – for if a casual observer were to note the major difference between the 2011 Rugby World Cup finalists, it would become apparent that the relationship between the flagship side and the next level would be the tighter relationship that New Zealand Rugby maintains with it’s five Investec Super Rugby sides.
Still, France could in theory lose thousands of Test matches and still upset the All Blacks on any given day, such is the nature of the great paradox of international rugby.
It might be suggested that the hugely physical Top 14 season will harm the French players, but equally Super Rugby will be in a high level of intensity by the time the rendezvous occurs between the mighty opponents – but whatever happens, the World Champions will know now to expect a wounded Tricolours team that will look to erase what they deem to be the horrors of the completed Six Nations by registering a win on New Zealand soil later in the year.
The first Test of the Steinlager Series is at Eden Park on June 8th.
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