Le tournoi est bleu. The words of a nation that has waited more than a decade to taste Six Nations glory. The tournament is indeed blue after they clinched the Grand Slam against England on Saturday night, and how happy so many were to see the day come.
France play some of the most attractive rugby on the planet and persistent questions about which French team were going to turn up seems to have been banished to the archive.
But while Les Bleus lifted the silver trophy in front of an adoring Parisian crowd, their opponents, whom they beat 25-13, and their head coach Eddie Jones raised more questions than answers.
Le Crunch was a battle between two countries with exceptional player pools, squad depth and competitive domestic rugby.
But England looked static throughout this campaign, with only small glimpses of promise representing the difference between their third place finish and last year’s miserable fifth. They did not win any more games than 12 months ago and, but for an extraordinary 22-21 victory for Italy in Cardiff earlier in the afternoon, the table might have looked worse.
Jones’s England side, for all their attacking capability, scored just eight tries in the five games – five of which came in Rome. Marcus Smith, the new face of English rugby, scored 71 points for England and a quarter of his team’s tries.
Jones claimed his team were the underdogs throughout, he said fans should appreciate the youth being incorporated into the spine of the squad, and he has insisted that his Red Rose side will be ready for next year’s Word Cup, with the final to be held in the very stadium his men lost in on Saturday.
“The results aren’t good enough,” he said after the loss. “When you rebuild a team it takes time. You don’t build a team in three months, you don’t build a good team in six months.
“This France team has been together since when? And this is the first thing they’ve won. It takes time.”
One thing about time: it offers an objectivity that doesn’t lie. Jones has had six years to build, and rebuild, his England team – others have done more with less.
In that time he has won three championships and made it to a World Cup final, so it’s hard to question his pedigree. Those who do forget the Australian’s history in achieving success.
Former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio told City A.M. last week that consistency was the key for players in any push for the Webb Ellis trophy. That, and how tight the pursestrings are at the Rugby Football Union, could be key in what happens next for Jones.
His contract concludes when his team play their final World Cup game in France next year. Whether he’ll be allowed to stick around is one for the bigwigs at Twickenham.
Between now and that tournament , England will play a summer tour to Australia, a series of autumn fixtures – including a clash with the All Blacks – and one final Six Nations campaign.
Saturday’s match was the best England had played in this edition of the championship but, unable to sustain consistency across the tournament, they had to settle for being also-rans for another year.
This year is about the blue, white and red of France, however. They were simply sublime to watch, and even when it looked as though Wales had found them out last week, they overcame the challenge in Cardiff and kicked on in Paris.
Champions status is totally deserved and attacking running rugby prevailing over the drab ideals of some other sides is a welcome sight in the northern hemisphere.
France are champions. The tournament is blue. Allez Les Bleus.
Italy cause Six Nations sensation in Wales
Away from the glitz and glamour of Parisian spring evenings, however, there was a true reenactment of David and Goliath, jubilation versus utter despair.
It wasn’t long before 4pm in the centre of Cardiff when rugby fans the world over were gazing upon the epicentre of Italian joy.
Ange Capuozzo broke down the right wing of the Principality, sidestepping two Welsh defenders and breezing past a third. The 22-year-old kept his composure and passed inside to Edoardo Padovani and Italy scored in the 77th minute. With Paolo Gabrisi’s conversion, they completed a memorable victory over Wales.
This was the Azzurri’s first win in the championship for seven years, a 22-19 victory over Scotland in 2015 their last success.
Amid the noise around relegation, promotion, and straight-up writing them off, Italy turned up when they really needed to and proved their worth.
Wales were simply woeful. It was no fitting occasion to mark Alun Wyn Jones’s 150th and Dan Biggar’s 100th caps.
Ireland finish championship on a high
In Dublin, Ireland did everything required of them as they scored four tries against a Scotland side many had tipped to challenge for the top three spots in the table.
Their 26-5 win put pressure on France going into the day’s final match and, buoyed by a strong autumn, Ireland too will be confident heading into their summer tour of New Zealand.
The Six Nations is done and dusted, the traditional Super Saturday, its concluding showpiece, living up to its billing.
Italy rediscovered the winning touch, the home nations produced more questions than answers and a French side captured the hearts.
It’s only 320 days until the greatest annual international rugby competition returns – and next time with the extra spice of a World Cup year.