We are already three matchweeks into the 2022 Six Nations, with big scores and close games making it a really interesting Championship. However, there has unquestionably been one team that has left everyone else in their tracks, with France looking increasingly superior after each round.
Les Bleus have always had a good desire and work rate, whilst their creativity has improved since Toulouse’s half-back pairing Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack came into the fold a few years ago. This year, the need for a kicker to challenge Ntamack was addressed by the emergence of Perpignan full-back Melvyn Jaminet, but what has been arguably their biggest team strength is their teamwork and organisation, with all players knowing what to do in every attacking and defensive situation. This tactical analysis will explore this in more detail, seeing why their excellent tactics have left them knocking on the door of a first Six Nations title since 2010.
When it comes to attacking, having a game plan is essential, as it can sometimes take quick passing, lots of carries or a mix of the two to break opposing defences down. However, the team still needs to execute this plan well, which is where many clubs and international teams fall down. France, however, don’t seem to have that problem.
From the early stages at Murrayfield last Saturday, it was clear that each attack was being supported by two or three players, in this case hooker Julien Marchand and lock Paul Willemse. Those in support spread out across the pitch to make it harder for the defenders to predict which of them would lunge for the try line, giving France even more of an advantage.
Both players are now in play here, as loosehead prop Cyril Baille has gone to ground and France now need to move the ball quickly to prevent Scotland from winning a turnover. With the home players scattered across the line and trying to protect as much ground as possible, Willemse finds a gap and gets the early try, but it is clear that this was all down to France getting numbers forward and not giving their opponents time to organise themselves.
The speed with which France move the ball around is also critical, with this situation demonstrating how never carrying it for too long exposed areas of the pitch that Scotland left undefended. In this case, centre Jonathan Danty has possession, with Ntamack giving him an immediate passing option, whilst Jaminet also slots in to receive the next pass, and this constant anticipation of what needs to happen next again shows the teamwork that has become commonplace in the French ranks.
This series of passes preluded France’s second try, and Jaminet plays the key role, as he makes a long pass out to Clermont winger Damien Penaud, who instantly looks to attack the space ahead of him. Whilst his angle was cut off by Darcy Graham and then Duhan van der Merwe, Penaud also had support and could keep the ball in play, with it being grounded by Yoram Moefana a couple of offloads later.
Scotland’s undoing was the speed of France’s passes and their quick change of direction, but the way the visitors poured players into this area to help Penaud was what enabled the attack to stay alive and be successfully converted into points.
In defence, France have been just as co-ordinated, with good line discipline and every player again knowing what to do in each situation. Against Scotland, they never looked disjointed when out of possession, and their opponents simply couldn’t find a way through them.
They have generally shown good strength when in these situations, with strips not uncommon as they look to start their own attacks from as far up the pitch as possible. The danger of these is highlighted here, as the steal by replacement lock Romain Taofifenua from Scottish flanker Rory Darge leads to France’s fifth try of the game, scored by Penaud. Even when out of possession, their communication has been excellent, leading to well-executed moves and a significant threat.
In conclusion, this analysis has focused on France’s performance against Scotland in this year’s Six Nations tournament, identifying key examples of their teamwork and why it could be what delivers them the 2022 title and a potential Grand Slam.
Ultimately, the key points to take are that France have good players in their team, but it is their ability to work together and be on the same page that has brought that together into the package that we have seen this year, and that is where the coaching staff, including Galthie, defence coach Shaun Edwards and team manager Raphael Ibanez all deserve credit.
French rugby had been in decline for a few years, but it is back now, and appears to be better than ever.