Great teams are built on difficult moments

Great teams are built on difficult moments
Perhaps more than any other edition, the 110th 'Le Crunch' will decide whether or not France have succeeded this Championship.

It feels like a long time ago now that France kicked off their 2024 Guinness Men's Six Nations campaign. Beginning with a home loss to Ireland (17-38), followed by a narrowly-won match against Scotland in Edinburgh (16-20) - with the help of video assistance - and then a draw that felt more like a defeat against Italy (13-13), France's desire to halt the slide was palpable. The fans shared the sentiment.

England followed a lacklustre but winning start against Italy (27-24) and Wales (16-14) with defeat to Scotland (30-21). As both teams entered the fourth round, uncertainty loomed.

The shock of Round 4

Then came France's dominant performance against Wales - although weakened and still battling to avoid the Wooden Spoon - followed by England's single-point victory against Ireland, and the Championship was back on track for both teams.

So, for this fixture - which goes all the way back to 1906 - both nations arrive in peak form. England were so exceptional against Ireland that they must now demonstrate in Lyon that it wasn't merely a one-off performance.

A win against England would save France's 2024 Guinness Men's Six Nations campaign. A loss? Well, that could signal some bleak days ahead.

France hold home advantage in Lyon, even it's not the Stade de France. England haven't defeated them in France since March 2016. On the other hand, the English have won more Crunch matches (60) than the French (43). However, last year's victory at Twickenham - a 53-10 thrashing delivered to a team that had recently changed coaches - halted England's streak of nine consecutive wins against Les Bleus at 'HQ'. That outcome remains vivid in the memories of both sides.

“You just have to say 'France-England', 'Six Nations tournament', 'last match', and that sets the stakes for us,” said Fabien Galthié on the night of the victory over Wales.

“This is a special tournament for us, and we have the chance to challenge ourselves again against one of the best teams in the tournament. We were thinking about Ireland, but in the end, anything is possible in this Tournament. We need to finish at the same tempo and with the same intensity as today [against Wales].”

Maximum drama

This week, the talking points in France have unreservedly raised the stakes for the match. “A defeat would of course be a disappointing tournament,” said Patrick Arlettaz, the coach in charge of Les Bleus' attack, aware of his team's shortcomings from the outset and cautious about the outcome.

“A win would be nice in terms of the standings, but it wouldn't erase anything, because you can't erase things. Scars are part of life. There's no great team, like the French team, that hasn't built itself on difficult moments.

“With the very difficult moment of the draw against Italy in Lille and putting in the performance we did against Wales, it's a great team that does that.

“These are not satisfactory scores for the French team. And if there's a win against England, we're not going to be jumping up and down either. We're going to build on the scars, telling ourselves that they'll make us stronger tomorrow. Scars also help us to build ourselves and make us stronger.”

Because the team that soundly beat Wales in Cardiff is their strongest, it has been fully maintained for Super Sturday. In fact, this is the first an unchanged team has been selected in the Galthié era. There are also no injuries or suspensions.

If winger Immanuel Feyi-Waboso had not suffered concussion in the match against Ireland, Steve Borthwick would have done the same. Instead, he has promoted Elliot Daly and placed the powerhouse Manu Tuilagi on the bench for what should be his England swansong. Those are the only changes.

A big battle ahead

Once the stakes have been set and the teams revealed, the strategising ramps up. England arrive more explosive than ever, powerful and solid, “always alternating between hand and foot and pressuring their opponents in the exchange of kicking game. They often end up in the opponents' half,” points out Fabien Galthié.

“This is a team that grew in strength during the World Cup and could well have been a finalist because it came down to a decision on a scrum where they were powerful at the end of the match. We're expecting some pretty big battles,” adds William Servat, the coach in charge of the forwards.

It's an opinion echoed by Grégory Alldritt, France's captain. “It's going to be a big battle,” he predicts. “They have a defence that attacks their opponents and tries to suffocate them. They played a big game against Ireland. Our fans are expecting a big Crunch. England are playing some very good rugby at the moment with a solid defence. It's going to be a tough challenge for us.

“We're also back with our fans in Lyon and we want to give them a lot. We know that we haven't always pleased them during this tournament, so there will be that challenge too.”

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