It is not so distant, the time when the prospect of a weekend in Rome for the XV of France was not synonymous with dolce vita. It was barely two years ago, when the Blues concluded a very sluggish tournament in Italy, with a team in search of untraceable certainties. They had certainly won, the Blues of coach Jacques Brunel, but against the course of the game and after having suffered a long Italian domination. A hold-up (24-15), which clearly indicated the state of bewilderment of these Blues, a few months before a World Cup that some predicted grim.
Serious and efficient
Was this memory present in the mind of Antoine Dupont, Paul Willemse or Gregory Alldritt this Saturday, February 6? These three were admittedly holders in 2019, but have undoubtedly erased this time of painful and repeated mistakes a long time ago. The Blues are not at all the same, renewed workforce and good morale after a year of revolution led by new coach Fabien Galthié.
For this 2021 Tournament, the Blues therefore came to Rome by conquering, sure of their new strength. They aroused the greatest hopes last year, winning over England, Wales and Ireland. They had to confirm them. Flawless execution. Act II of their new play, which should culminate in the climax of the world title in 2023, has started perfectly. The Blues scored three tries in the first half, four in the second for a final result (50-10) that the France team had not known in Italy for 12 years (50-8 in 2009).
A well-framed domination
So certainly, the Italians have long been nothing but small fry in the deep end of the oval, now accumulating 28 defeats in the Tournament (last victory in 2015 against Scotland, 22-19). But it was still necessary not to get embarked on a trap match. Very seriously, the Blues let the Italians come to better punish them with formidable efficiency. When they practice this way, the Blues of rugby look like their football cousins, leaving control of the game to the opponent but able to punish him against by exploiting the slightest loophole.
A first half to this yardstick, a second suddenly more in control and unfolding their domination: here is the Blues in accordance with the copy written by their master to play Fabien Galthié. The technician and his team of experts worked to establish a framework, a style of play, with a speech to share the method. All that could not be put in place for many years with their predecessors. Confidence finally returned last year, in a perfectly receptive group because without complex: the Blues now aim high and dare to say it.
Confidence and ambition
We could even speak of elements of language, as the speeches are so similar. Antoine Dupont, the flamboyant scrum half of the Blues: “What stands out are the titles, so we’ll have to win something this year. “ Paul Willemse, rampart of the second line: “Our next step is to win the Tournament. Now we want to win titles, that’s our goal. “ Charles Ollivon, the captain and valiant third line: “Now that we are performing well at European level, we would like to win titles. “ Clearly, the time for the defeatist spiral is over. And this is undoubtedly the fundamental change driven by Fabien Galthié.
It remains to confront this state of mind with a reality much more solid than the meager transalpine opposition. Next Sunday, the Blues will assert their new appetite at the Dublin table against Ireland. “This match will be capital”, already announces Charles Ollivon. The real entry into the Tournament, for these Blues now considered favorites of the event and expected as such.
A status to be assessed against Ireland on February 14, but perhaps even more against Scotland on February 28 at the Stade de France. The Scots, the only winners of the Blues in the Tournament last year in Edinburgh (28-17), offered themselves the luxury of showering England in the rain of Twickenham on Saturday: 11-6, the chef’s surprise. The last victory of the Scots over the Blues in Paris dates back to the last century, in 1999, again the era of the V nations: they had won 36-22 and the XV of France had finished in last place in the standings. Most of today’s Blues were still not very sure on their legs. So this kind of memory …