Tue, Mar 23, 2010 - Page 18 News List

ANALYSIS : France take glory as rest battle for Six Nations scraps

AFP , PARIS

France deservedly claimed their first Six Nations grand slam since 2004 in a tournament where they exploited brilliantly the many weaknesses of their respective opponents.

Anyone backing France to win this year’s grand slam after their 34-10 humiliation last year at Twickenham would have been in a minority at the start of the tournament.

But it was the deep psychological scars that were inflicted that day which helped spark the dramatic change in the French mentality which produced the grand slam.

Just as pleasing for the players, and for Lievremont, the grand slam was sealed with a hard fought 12-10 win over arch-foes England — the coach’s first over England in three attempts.

“It is a very nice baby even if the birth was quite difficult,” the 41-year-old said. “For the first time we have reached the end of a series or a tournament and I can be satisfied.”

Lievremont was key to French success as was inspirational scrum-half and kicker Morgan Parra, whose maturity belied his 21 years.

“What we managed to do in this tournament was to adapt to each opponents’ different style of play and with the English it was no different,” Parra said.

Lievremont should take a huge amount of credit for the turnaround in the team’s fortunes.

He persisted in constantly changing personnel since his appointment after the 2007 World Cup, leaving plenty of people wondering whether or not he really had a strategy.

But the halfback partnership of Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc, a product of his selection policy from two years ago, came to maturity.

The 2009 champions Ireland had the French on the back foot for the opening 20 minutes of their clash, but having failed to take advantage, they ended up being at the wrong end of a 33-10 scoreline.

The Triple Crown was also to slip from Ireland’s grasp when they were beaten 23-20 by Scotland on their last outing at Croke Park.

Coach Declan Kidney is optimistic that this was not the start of a decline in his side’s fortunes.

“If we look at the Six Nations, by our own standards, we feel there’s more in us,” Kidney said. “A lot of the things that went wrong are within our control to rectify.”

For England, Wales and Scotland, their respective coaches — Martin Johnson, Warren Gatland and Andy Robinson — insisted they were better than the final standings indicated.

Even an improved performance against France has not convinced Johnson’s many critics that England are moving in the right direction as they seek to regain the Six Nations title for the first time since 2003.

“As manager, Johnson must accept responsibility, but the ultimate responsibility rests not with him but with the RFU’s director of elite rugby, Rob Andrew,” wrote Johnson’s fellow World Cup winning team-mate Lawrence Dallaglio.

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