After ransacking the English temple of rugby, the Blues are returning home. A week after its impressive victory at Twickenham (53-10), the XV of France concludes, on Saturday March 18, the 2023 edition of the Six Nations Tournament against Wales (3:45 p.m., to follow live on Le Monde .Fr). A last spring outing before the summer preparation matches. And, above all, a final trial run on the lawn of the Stade de France before starting "his" World Cup at home, in early September, against the formidable New Zealanders.
At the end of the "fifth round of this Tournament", as Raphaël Ibañez, general manager of the Blues, turned it, the French still aspire to raise their arms. But their defeat in Ireland, in the second match (19-32) and the hitherto immaculate course of the XV of Clover makes them cling to the hope of a burst of English pride in Dublin, to hope to keep their title. “We have a tournament to finish well and still have a hand on the trophy, even if it does not depend only on us, underlined this week Laurent Labit, the coach of the tricolor attack. It is a great pleasure to find our audience and we want to stay on our dynamic. »
The message was hammered home to Antoine Dupont's teammates, as soon as they left Eurostar, the day after the crunch: be careful not to focus too much on Ireland, a distant rival for the coronation, at the risk of forgetting the Leek XV. “We must not choose the wrong opponent and beat Wales. We want to focus on our destiny, the rest does not belong to us, ”insisted Fabien Galthié on Thursday.
The coach has not forgotten this time when his troops got lost in the calculations. At the conclusion of the 2021 Six Nations Tournament – where a very large improved success would have won the Tournament – Scotland left victorious from the Stade de France, while the Blues had nevertheless won the match. "We tried to go for more than victory and we ended up with a lost match," summed up third-row Grégory Alldritt. To want to do too much… An unfinished score that the XV of France, which has since achieved the Grand Slam and beaten all the major nations of world rugby, does not wish to interpret again.
"This team has long martyred the XV of France"
Especially against this Wales. Winners in Italy last weekend, captain Ken Owens' teammates failed to convince, repelling the specter of the Wooden Spoon - which "rewards" the team having lost all its matches in the Tournament. Still, the Welsh remain mired in extra-sporting worries: the professional future of several executives remains uncertain, a few weeks after the players threatened to strike ahead of the match against England.
And if Warren Gatland's team - recalled as a duty firefighter on the bench in the fall of 2022 - has retained the backbone of those who won the Grand Slam in 2019 and in 2012 under his command, the years have passed and the decline of the XV Leek seems inexorable.
"The performance of the French in England was fantastic", praised the New Zealand technician on Thursday, stressing that he expected to see the Blues "necessarily disappointed to have lost in Dublin" approach Saturday's meeting with a knife between their teeth.
To face them, the Welsh boss chose to favor experience, a week after having greatly rejuvenated his team in Italy. He therefore recalled his grognards, like the second line Alun Wyn Jones – 37 years old and seventeen Six Nations to his credit – or the opener Dan Biggar (33 years old). "In starting guys who have been great servants to Welsh rugby, the idea is to tell them, 'Enjoy the moment, and savor it.' For many of them, this could be their last meeting in the Tournament, "explained Warren Gatland, engaged in a renewal of the Leek XV, with a view to the World Cup... 2027.
Even if the Blues are favored by the forecasts, the French staff expects to see the Dragons arrive in Paris freed and devoid of any pressure. "We must not forget that the Welsh won the Tournament two years ago, and they were in a position to make the Grand Slam, but we took them away in stoppage time. It's not far, two years “, recalled Fabien Galthié, confessing to having “always been impressed by this team, which martyred the XV of France for a very long time”.
After this final week of gathering before returning to their clubs for the end of the Top 14 and the European Cups, the French intend to "keep their feet on the ground", said Grégory Alldritt on Wednesday. Rather than focusing on widening the gap - in view of winning the Tournament -, "the objective is to build our victory like last weekend, to restore the same intensity, to play just as we did at Twickenham ", extended the third line from La Rochelle. Before waiting, together in the Stade de France locker room, for a possible white smoke from Ireland.