Rugby Union: Future lies with fluent French

Jonathan Davies at Murrayfield sees a team inhabiting a different hemisphere
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The Independent Online
WE MIGHT have to get used to these cricket scores before the Five Nations' Champsionship runs its course. France were so superb yesterday, the only advice you can give to Ireland and Wales is to start digging trenches and filling sandbags.

Regardless of what England did at Twickenham, the French are emerging as the northern hemisphere's genuine hopes for the World Cup next year. For all their superiority over Scotland, they can get better.

They are capable of scoring from anywhere and what with the development of the game in the last year or so you can forget the Five Nations' reputation for tight games and narrow winning margins. The scoreboards are going to rattle along. The new rucking and mauling laws are making a big difference, as is the rule about the forwards staying down in the scrums.

Philippe Carbonneau took advantage of that rule brilliantly. Running so quickly from the scrum as the back row were tied down, Carbonneau cut them to pieces and brought in Jean-Luc Sadourny to complete the damage.

The French had many great players in action yesterday but Carbonneau was absolutely outstanding. He dictated the pace of the game as if he had a remote control in his hands. And his distribution and decision-making were a joy to watch.

In contrast, I thought Thomas Castaignede had a poor match which got worse when Christophe Lamaison went off. Perhaps moving into the centre had an effect on him but there isn't really an excuse. The fact that he scored a spectacular try in the last minute of the game will probably get him off the hook, but he can do a lot better.

In the first 10 minutes the Scots might have thought that they had discovered the secret of beating the French - keep the ball away from them. Some good rucking enabled them to do that for a while but the first two occasions the French got their hands on the ball they scored tries and picked up where they left off against England.

Once more, their front three were magnificent. They pushed and pulled England all over the place and did the same to Scotland. And with their second row playing like back-row forwards, they have so many runners on the park. It gave them a platform to blaze away.

And the interplay between backs and forwards is outstanding. How on earth do you defend against an attack that contains forwards and backs with no difference between them?

As usual, the Scottish rucking was a strength but it was nowhere near as dynamic as the French, who are so quick at getting the ball back into play. Had the French known that the English were going in for a spot of record-breaking down at Twickenham the French might have taken them. But they had the game won by half-time and after scoring two quick tries after the restart they cruised for 20 minutes.

Then they broke loose again at the end and that last Castaignede try epitomised everything they do well. A catch from the kick-off, a drive down the middle and Olivier Magne had options either side of him before timing his pass perfectly. It was a pleasure to see.

The Scots could not have done much better. Rob Wainwright played valiantly, as did Alan Tait, but it is very difficult when you are continually on your back foot.

There is going to be some hard thinking in the camps of the Celtic nations over the next few days. No doubt, the Scots will be drawing on memories of times when they have stopped England at Murrayfield. But the Irish and Welsh find themselves between the French and the Grand Slam - and that's no place to be standing.