Can Galthie's France keep up with Jones's England?
CAPE TOWN – The biggest match in the opening weekend of the Six Nations is in Paris on Sunday. If Eddie Jones’s England can beat Fabien Galthie’s new-look France, then Jones’s beaten World Cup finalists could rewrite history and win the Six Nations.
No European team in the history of the World Cup in the professional era post 1996, has lost a World Cup final and gone on to win the Six Nations the following year. Each of the three teams who have lost in the World Cup final, lost two of their five Six Nations matches and finished mid-table.
Jones, typically, has spoken a big game. He has told the media his silver medal brigade in the next four years want to become the greatest team the game has ever known. That is a stretch, but for now Jones would take England being the best in the competition.
Opinion in Europe is divided about Jones and England. There’s a view that Jones will see out the two years remaining in his contract and move on, and that we may well have seen the best of the Jones-coached England, with the highlight being the memorable 19-7 win against the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final.
The manner in which England’s pack was destroyed by the Springboks in the final can’t be wished away or erased. England, their pack always so vaunted, have serious questions marks after the humiliation in Tokyo, Japan.
England’s 2003 World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward isn’t convinced England will immediately recover from the mental scarring of the 32-12 World Cup final defeat.
Woodward also doesn’t believe the issues in that World Cup final have been addressed. It is hard to disagree with his sentiments.
France, the perennial underachievers in world rugby in the past decade, have a new coaching team and captain. Will the change in leadership bring about a change in fortunes in a new decade?
Woodward is confident France can and will beat England in Paris tomorrow.
Win the game, he wrote in his Daily Mail column, and France win the tournament. Lose the game and they’ll finish last; such is the French mentality.
Former French captain Fabian Galthie coaches France for the first time. If Galthie can’t transform France and find that something magical, then who?
Galthie has entrusted the former Welsh defensive specialist Shaun Edwards as his second in command. Edwards, a rugby league legend in his playing days, and one of the most respected rugby union coaches, is sure to bring defensive structure but only the players can bring the intensity to complement whatever Edwards puts in place.
Former Western Province flyhalf and kicking specialist Vlok Cilliers is also part of the Galthie management, while 26-year-old flanker Charles Ollivon renews his partnership with Galthie from when the two were together at Toulon.
Galthie has picked just two new caps, with the biggest talking point being Montpellier fullback Anthony Bouthier.
Galthie has told his players that they will be judged on their commitment to French rugby each time they put on the jersey. French teams in the last decade have been synonymous with flight more than fight.
Tomorrow will be a marker that the fight in French rugby has finally returned.
*Six Nations schedule
Wales v Italy
Ireland v Scotland
France v England