Mark Keohane reflects on the first weekend of Super Rugby and Six Nations. My return is: four from seven in Super Rugby and three from three in the Six Nations. Allez le bleus. That was my pick of the weekend, for France to beat England. In Super Rugby, it was for the Stormers to smash the Hurricanes.
I have always been in love with the people of France, the country that is France and the rugby team that is France. On this particular Sunday in Paris French coach Fabian Galthie’s first up French effort delivered everything that is so beautiful and brutal about French rugby and the French individual.
Ordinarily, France, given their dominance, should have won by 30 points. They won 24-17, after leading 24-nil on 50 minutes. England should never have got seven points, let alone 17, but somehow in the frantic final five minutes it was not improbable for England to find a way to win.
France were magnificent in winning. I called it on SA Rugby Magazine and The Moneyman show earlier in the week. Everything in the build-up pointed to a French win. Galthie’s first ever Six Nations match in charge, understated but charged. England’s Eddie Jones, all bluster and thunder in the build-up but clearly not over the whipping they got in the World Cup final against the Springboks.
Jones’s tenure highlight will be the World Cup semi-final win against the All Blacks. His lowlight will be the 32-12 hammering against the Springboks. His Six Nations now is five away defeats in the last five ‘big games’. Forget any win against Italy. They have won just 12 in 101 matches in 20 years of Six Nations. They have also won just two in 51 away from home.
Allez le bleus and Galthie certainly have something to build on. Scrumhalf Antoine Dupont is special. He could well be the best scrumhalf by the end of the year. Typically, being French, he had a brain explosion when he kicked the ball out a minute from time thinking time was up. It allowed England one last play, which allowed them to force a penalty and a losing bonus point.
Dupont has X-factor, as does flyhalf Romain Ntamac, son of the great French winger Emile. My other two French players of the day were flanker and captain Charles Ollivon and No 8 Gregory Alldritt.
This was the French quartet that excelled on the field but off it, former Welsh defensive guru Shaun Edwards made an immediate impact as French assistant coach. Edwards is the real deal in taking any player and showing him how to defend and also in implementing his defensive structure. France have never looked as disciplined defensively as they did in the first 60 minutes.
I picked Wales to win easily and Ireland to edge Scotland by one score.
In Super Rugby, I had the Chiefs to beat the Blues in Auckland, the Crusaders to beat the Waratahs, the Jaguares to whip the Lions and the Stormers to thump a Hurricanes team that has no pack. These all came good for me. I backed the Bulls to continue the dominance over the Sharks and was particularly disappointed with their losing effort in Durban.
The Brumbies versus Reds was a 50-50 game but my gut feel was with the Reds. They lost it by three but they should never have after leading 17-7 at halftime. The only game that I would never have picked was the Sunwolves handing out such a schooling to the Rebels.
One week into the tournament and the gulf already seems big.
I don’t see any Aussie team going beyond the last four. The Stormers are South Africa’s big hope, the Jaguares will be there at the end and the Crusaders and Chiefs will be the best of the Kiwi challenge.