France edged Ireland in a battle of attrition today in Paris.
On paper, two wins from two games is a perfect start for Guy Noves and Co.
Les Bleus march on to Cardiff in two weeks time knowing that a win will give them realistic ambitions of capturing a first championship since 2011.
However, while today was a victory for France, it was undoubtedly a defeat for French rugby as a whole.
Phllipe Saint-Andre’s reign petered out at the World Cup, as their game plan was to beat up the opposition to the point of injury. However, they were badly exposed when Ireland and New Zealand got their noses in front, as the style was not designed for chasing a game.
Guy Noves came in, and many expected the former Toulouse head coach to introduce the champagne rugby he architected with the aristocrats of south France.
This has not transpired.
Over the first two weeks of the Six Nations, they have continued with the dour physical game-plan of the Saint-Andre era, but are simply implementing it marginally better.
The difference between today and Ireland’s victory at the Millennium Stadium four months ago is that Ireland have slightly receded, due to injury and retirement, while the French have drafted in superior personnel, particularly in the out-half position.
This afternoon, Ireland were beaten up.
The French had nothing going forward. The one-dimensional attack was predictable, and Ireland had more than enough to keep them at bay. When Sébastian Bezy was throwing the ball out to one of his forwards for a crash, Jules Plisson nor any playmaker for that matter, were anywhere to be seen offering an extra option.
Sure, the occasional break in the loose drew praise of ‘French Flair’, but in truth, that is a distant memory.
As the game wore on and fatigue reigned amongst the Irish, France began to make hay. Having dragged the Irish down to their own level, they beat them with experience.
The losing of the game from an Irish point of view, despite squandering several chances up the other end, was the absence of their first and second choice tighthead props in Mike Ross and Marty Moore. Nathan White and Tadhg Furlong improved on last week, but at present, neither are international standard scrummagers.
However, plaudits must be given to what Guilheim Guirado and his side did well. They soaked up attack after attack from Ireland, and did not budge.
Sean O’Brien, CJ Stander, Jamie Heaslip and Tommy O’Donnell were forced to work extremely hard to secure possession at every breakdown.
There have been many teams over the years relying solely on physicality, but this is not sustainable. If Les Bleus bring that to the Principality Stadium in a fortnight, they will be badly exposed, and the Welsh could have a field day.
Through the lens of a fan, it is downright sad to see a former proud rugby nation reducing themselves to a negative driving force, unwilling to adapt from a style that only brought them failure over the last four years.
In the aftermath of the World Cup, there was an inquest as to how the southern hemisphere countries had opened the gap on the Six Nations sides. In this writer’s mind, there was one clear variable between the 2015 World Cup cycle and the previous campaigns; a strong France.
Rugby needs France, and while they recorded a victory today, this style is not conducive to continued future success. If France are to return to their former powers, they need to be more dynamic.
Today a poor Irish performance led to the French grinding out a deserved win, but this merely papers over the cracks.
They could be found wanting in two weeks’ time.