England remain the favourites for the 2011 RBS 6 Nations, but what we saw at the Stade de France on Saturday might suggest the bookies have got it wrong.
Scotland’s pack was supposed to be their main strength, and they’d picked a set of forwards to take on the French up front, with the aim of limiting the supply of ball to Francois Trinh-Duc and his potent backline.
As we know, it didn’t really work out like that. France’s power in the scrum was frightening, and they overcame a significant weight deficit to utterly dominate the Scottish pack. Their back row is often celebrated, but it was the turn of Thomas Domingo and the front five to claim the plaudits and soak up the new-found adoration amongst the French rugby public.
Of further concern is the evidence this week that Marc Lievremont has settled on a first-choice side – he only made one enforced change to the side that beat Scotland, and it seems that these days, you do know which French side will turn up. Moreover, a glance down the teamsheet and there is class in every position – including the bench – and it’s not easy to identify weaknesses as you can with other nations.
Lievremont’s side now travel to Ireland to face a team that many described as having the poorest front five in the competition, and it could get ugly in the scrum. A victory for the French is by no means guaranteed at Lansdowne Road, but it would be an enormous turnaround for Ireland to get a result after their efforts in Italy.
Then England are next up at Twickenham, and some have declared this fixture as the championship decider. It probably is if France win it, but not necessarily if England do, based on the fixtures that will remain for each side.
Nevertheless, the power of France’s pack could mean that England start as underdogs at Twickenham, given their record against teams that give them a hard time up front – recent successes have come against sides with weaker forwards, and even then they didn’t exert the same sort of pressure as France did against Scotland.
You can bet on France to win the tournament at 7/4, whilst England are favourites at 5/4, but should it be the other way around? Will the odds change if France beat Ireland this weekend?
Let us know your thoughts, and we’ll use some of the comments in The Rugby Paper this week.