The Blue Grand Slam

The championship came down to the 15th and final match with France needing the win to go 5-0 and extend its overall winning streak to eight. That achieved, the home team also leapfrogged the All Blacks into second place on the world rankings.

 

Led by man of the match, halfback Antoine Dupont, France played at pace in the opening stanza, stretching the England defence to almost breaking point. The offloading game was something to behold, but the finishing was less than clinical.

 

Midfielder Gael Fickou opened the scoring off a typically French team effort, after several phases and pairs of hands. A sweeping movement then sent Francis Cros over and at 18-6 the French had the bit between their teeth.

 

The England pack, led by Sam Underhill, rolled its sleeves up in the second half and began to make inroads but, other than a well-taken try to wing Freddie Steward in the corner, was unable to break down the solid French defensive line.

 

Fittingly, it was Dupont who struck the hammer blow on the 60-minute mark, running in from an offload by his No 8 Gregory Alldritt, one of the most consistent French performers.

 

France general manager Raphael Ibanez spoke of how his side had triumphed through “spirit, heart and tactics”. He was not thinking too far ahead, but France will be amongst the favourites at its home Rugby World Cup in 18 months’ time.

Earlier, Ireland had kept the pressure on and briefly taken the Six Nations lead with a 26-5 bonus point shutout of Scotland in Dublin, taking the Triple Crown in the process.

 

Again, Kiwi-born halfback Jamison Gibson-Park was in fine form, as was wing James Lowe. Ireland had to fight hard to subdue Scotland, which finished fourth in the Six Nations.

 

Ireland hooker Dan Sheehan led the way with a fine allround display and a try from a lineout drive. We should see an interesting July series in New Zealand if most of this squad makes the plane.

 

The big shock of the day came in the first match, in Cardiff, where Italy beat Wales 22-21 via a last minute try to arrest a seven-year, 36-match drought in this tournament.

 

Coach Kieran Crowley has worked hard on making the Azzurri tougher to beat and they hung in there, despite being down three tries to nil, at 15-21, with time almost up.

 

But he has uncovered a gem in diminutive fullback Ange Capuozzo, whose stunning, weaving, run set up a try for his wing Eduardo Padovani to score near the uprights. Paulo Garbisi kicked the handy conversion and it was joy unrestrained for a side that is now no longer the easybeat of the Six Nations.

 

It was a crushing blow for coach Wayne Pivac and Wales, which won the 2021 title and was celebrating two milestones –150 Tests for Alun Wyn Jones and 100 for his country for Dan Biggar.

 

Cardiff: Italy 22 (Eduardo Padovani try; Paulo Garbisi con, 3 pen, Padovani 2 pen) Wales 21 (Owen Watkin, Josh Adams, Dewi Lake tries; Dan Biggar 3 con) HT: 12-7 Italy

 

Dublin: Ireland 26 (Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Josh van der Flier, Conor Murray tries; Johnny Sexton 3 con) Scotland 5 (Pierre Schoeman try) HT: 14-5 Ireland

 

Paris: France 25 (Gael Fickou, Francois Cros, Antoine Dupont tries; Melvyn Jaminet 2 con, 2 pen) England 13 (Freddie Steward try; Marcus Smith con, 2 pen) HT: 18-6 France

 

Final points: France 25, Ireland 21, England 10, Scotland 10, Wales 7, Italy 4

 

Form XV:

 

15 Ange Capuozzo (Italy)

14 Monty Ioane (Italy)

13 Joe Marchant (England)

12 Gael Fickou (France)

11 Josh Adams (Wales)

10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)

9 Antoine Dupont (France)

8 Gregory Alldritt (France)

7 Michele Lamaro (Italy)

6 Francois Cros (France)

5 Cameron Woki (France)

4 Iain Henderson (Ireland)

3 Uni Atonio (France)

2 Dan Sheehan (Ireland)

1 Danilo Fischetti (Italy)


EXCLUSIVE COLUMN

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EXCLUSIVE COLUMN

Campbell Burnes

Campbell Burnes has written on rugby since 2000 for a wide variety of publications, both in print and online, whilst also contributing to television and radio shows. His major gigs have seen him at Rugby News magazine (2005-12), in which he covered 50 Test matches, and the New Zealand Herald (2014-17). Burnes is one of the few in rugby media to have played international rugby, having appeared for Manu Samoa in 1995 and 2000 (seven games) as a No 10. He is now the editor of Rugby News magazine and co-editor of the Rugby Almanack.

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