Ollie Phillips: England need to target French emotion in Six Nations
France face the ultimate challenge tomorrow. Winning a Six Nations Championship is hard enough, but to win one when there’s just the English between you and a Grand Slam is even harder.
Super Saturday is one of the great days of international rugby outside of the World Cup. Three games, five of the six highest ranked nations in the continent, all with something to play for, whether that be the overall title, Test trophies or prize money.
Wales v Italy
Up first is Wales against Italy. This game has very little riding on it and I wasn’t far off with my pre-tournament prediction that Wales would come into it without a win (their only victory came in round two against Scotland).
Wales have been poor really. They’re defensively great but I just don’t think they offer too much going forward.
They’re also missing some firepower, some players who would give them some gainline success – like George North – and they’re struggling to keep their shape in attack.
I have little doubt that Wales will come out on top against a sorry looking Italian side – and that could help condemn England to fifth in the table again – but I feel they need a reset.
Ireland v Scotland
This is where the proper stuff starts. There may be prize money and wooden spoons on offer in the opening match but in Ireland’s match against Scotland we get to see the first title gauntlet thrown down.
I think Ireland will win this match comfortably and the only question is by how big a margin. Ireland looked dominant against England last week but were let down by their own ill-discipline and mistakes.
If Tadgh Furlong can get over his decimation at the hands of Ellis Genge at Twickenham, I just don’t see where Scotland will be able to challenge with any intent.
The Irish will need to heap as much misery on Scotland as possible to give them the best chance if the championship comes down to points difference.
They’ll throw the first punch of the day, and it will be about how France respond.
France v England
This match could kick off tomorrow evening with France confirmed as champions, but there will be something riding on it either way.
A France win could snatch the crown back off Ireland and it could also confirm a Grand Slam title. A loss, however, could hand Ireland the championship, depending on their earlier result.
The Gregory Alldritt and Antoine Dupont axis at No8 and No9 for France is always a thing of beauty; they work so well together from the base of the scrum.
England have chosen a kicking game, having brought George Furbank and Ben Youngs into the starting XV and I am a bit worried about that. Sometimes you need more than an in-play plan to beat the French.
It’s what Wales did so well last weekend. They forced France to get caught up in the emotion of the game and caused them to falter slightly. England will hope for something similar in Paris.
It’s been a great Six Nations championship and it’s always good to have a Super Saturday with multiple permutations possible. Let’s hope the day lives up to the reputation this tournament has earned for being the best annual international rugby championship around.
Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development and behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.