It’s fair to say that few people expected France to be leading the Six Nations standings after three matches. But Fabien Galthié’s side currently sits top of the pile after defeating England, Italy, and Wales, their youthful squad having proven that they possess the quality to do serious damage on the international stage.
For the rest of the field of challengers, the current campaign has been hit and miss, to say the least. With the exception of Italy, who have lost all three games, all have played well in patches but have been plagued by inconsistency in their performances.
After the Rugby World Cup in Japan in the autumn, the question is whether some of the Six Nations sides have been adversely affected by their exploits, or lack thereof, in the World Cup. England went all the way to the final, while Wales reached the semi-final stage, and it’s possible both teams have suffered something of a hangover after going deep in the tournament.
Ireland and Scotland may, in contrast, be suffering from post-World Cup blues, after both exited the competition in disappointing circumstances, Ireland getting humbled by New Zealand in the quarter-finals, with Scotland failing to make it past the pool stage.
England were the favourites in the Guinness Six Nations betting odds before the tournament began, but defeat to France in the opening match put paid to their Grand Slam hopes. Wales looked in good form in their opening win over Italy, but have since suffered two defeats against Ireland and the French respectively. Ireland looked to be building some momentum but failed to deliver a worthy performance against England at Twickenham, and now face an uphill task to get back in contention. Scotland has been their usual inconsistent selves, while Italy has been the tournament’s whipping boys once again.
Only France has fully done itself justice in the Six Nations so far. Little was expected of Galthié’s side after the coach named a youthful and inexperienced squad before the tournament began. But they have exceeded all expectations, with scrum-half Antoine Dupont playing a key role in all of their matches so far.
France exceeded expectations slightly at the World Cup also, emerging from a difficult pool which included England and Argentina, before only narrowly losing out to Wales in the quarter-finals. It was the kind of tournament that will have given hope to French rugby fans, and given Galthié cause for optimism as he took the reins.
There have been plenty of changes afoot since the World Cup, with France, Wales, Ireland, and Italy all making coaching changes, and some alterations in the captaincies as well. It’s clear that this is something of a transitional period for those who have undergone a shake-up in coaching personnel. Only France seems to have found top gear straight away, and French rugby fans must be rubbing their eyes in disbelief as they look at the Six Nations table.
It could yet prove that France’s inexperience counts against them when push comes to shove at the business end of the tournament. If England or Ireland can dust off the cobwebs that have lingered in their performances, and fully click into gear in their remaining two games, then there could yet be an explosive finale to this intriguing Six Nations campaign.