The Official Online RBS 6 Nations Store is open. The store has everything you need to get behind your team during the RBS 6 Nations, plus the store is now fully stocked with a much wider range of rugby merchandise.
Marc Lievremont had sent them out under orders to ‘clean up the mess’ left by the inexplicable scale of their late collapse against the Wallabies ten weeks earlier.
The manner in which they began rebuilding their Parisian citadel brought the opening round of the RBS 6 Nations to a suitably stylish climax.
Scotland’s competitive response made it the best match of the three by some way on a night when seven more tries than penalties provided a crowd of almost 80,000 with rich entertainment.
L’Equipe’s banner headline Un Bon Brouillon referred to the work as a ‘rough draft’ with room for a lot of polishing between now and the end of the extravaganza, home to Wales on March 19.
The overall performance might have been better still had the holders not appeared to switch into cruise-control mode for the last ten minutes as Lievremont used the entire bench, presumably to conserve the energy of his bigger guns for Dublin this Sunday on the basis that the team had done enough for one day.
After Friday night in Cardiff with the roof somehow refusing to be lifted off its hinges despite the roaring intensity which only a Wales-England match can generate, after Saturday afternoon in Rome and Ireland’s desperate denial of a famous Italian win, France gave the old tournament a rare treat.
The Scots deserve huge credit for making a game of it with three converted tries of their own but even they will have admired the exhilarating nature of every French try save the one which the visitors’ splintering scrum left English referee Wayne Barnes no option but to award the seven-point penalty.
The other three from Les Bleus were worthy of their status as Grand Slam champions, starting with the perfection of Aurelien Rougerie’s grubber which Maxime Medard in full cry turned into his 18th try of a wonderful season.
Francois Trinh-Duc’s outrageous pass between his legs sent Imanol Harinordoquy careering off on a diagonal run between the posts.
Andy Robinson’s gallant team, splendidly served by Richie Gray, Kelly Brown and Joe Ansbro with little Max Evans personifying their collective courage, could have been forgiven had they been bemused by the daring nature of the ploy which put their Basque back row forward bounding over from some 30 metres.
Trumping that would take some doing but the French managed to play all four aces in a move of blinding speed and sleight of hand. Medard’s dash down the left touchline followed by the first of three inside passes allowed Damien Traille to apply the finishing touch under the crossbar.
When it comes to scoring four or more tries in the championship over the seven seasons starting in 2005 when Wales won the first of their Slams, France have done it most often – nine times.
England have managed seven, Ireland five, Wales four and Italy one. Scotland last scored four in the tournament against Italy eight years ago but it is no coincidence that Ansbro’s rise as a midfield force enabled them to score three in one afternoon after managing a mere five in ten matches last year.
Scotland’s capacity for taking the punishment and picking themselves up off the canvas gave them the satisfaction of scoring the last try through substitute wing Sean Lamont, not that Robinson was ready to settle for the consolation of seeing his team compete to the very end. ‘We are here to win Test matches,’ he said. ‘We are not here to be unlucky losers.’
They will find out about that, for better or worse, against Wales at Murrayfield in round two on Saturday.
Unlucky was too feeble a word to describe how the Scots felt at being on the wrong end of the mad last five minutes in Cardiff this time last year when Shane Williams snatched Wales a reprieve which nobody believed possible.
They have won just once in eleven internationals since then. While they digest the harsh lessons behind their recurring inability to take advantage of opponents’ indiscipline, England head back to the home comforts of Twickenham for their next three games, starting against Italy on Saturday.
France, seven championship wins on the spin since losing in England two years ago, put their title on the line in Ireland on Sunday by which time Yannick Jauzion is due to have been restored to their midfield in place of the injured Maxime Mermoz.
My Six Nations team of the weekend:
15 Ben Foden (England)
14 Yoann Huget (France)
13 Joe Ansbro (Scotland)
12 Aurelien Rougerie (France)
11 Maxime Medard (France)
10 Toby Flood (England)
9 Morgan Parra (France)
1 Thomas Domingo (France)
2 William Servat (France)
3 Nicolas Mas (France)
4 Richie Gray (Scotland)
5 Tom Palmer (England)
6 Thierry Dusautoir (France)
8 Sergio Parisse (Italy)
7 Imanol Harinordoquy (France)
Hooker -- Dylan Hartley (England)
Prop -- Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)
Second row – Bradley Davies (Wales)
Back row –Tom Wood (England)
Scrum half – Dimitri Yachvili (France)
Fly half – Francois Trinh-Duc (France)
Wing-full back – Mark Cueto (England)