Sunday Times

France — fabulous at best, feeble at worst

- KEO UNCUT ✼ Mark Keohane is the founder of, a multiple award-winning sports writer and the digital content director at Habari Media. Twitter: @mark_keohane

French coach Fabian Galthie, after his team’s World Cup quarterfin­al defeat against the Springboks, said it was a scar that would never go away and one that he and his team would have to learn to live with.

In Marseille, against Ireland in the Six Nations season-opener, it was clearly still a wound, more than a scar.

Perhaps, describing it as a wound is an understate­ment. It is more like a bleeding hole from which this French team may not recover in the World Cup cycle that runs until 2027.

Ireland won easily, playing with the advantage of 15 on 14 for 60 of the 80 minutes.

France, crushed at losing the World Cup to South Africa in front of their home fans, have not recovered emotionall­y, but never have they been as emphatical­ly dealt with in Marseille, where they were expected to win and win well.

Ireland, starting life without their general of the past decade, Johnny Sexton, would have wondered what the post-Sexton fuss was all about. Such was the ease with which they won.

It helped that France’s former South African under-21 lock Paul Willemse was yellow-carded after seven minutes, and it put the game beyond France when he was red-carded on 30 minutes. Rugby, at this level, is difficult enough when 15 play 15, but when 14 must play 15 for an hour, it becomes near impossible to fashion a result.

It puts the All Blacks performanc­e in the World Cup final against the Springboks into perspectiv­e. It gives context to the magnitude and enormity of the All Blacks effort that they played 57 minutes with 14 after captain and flanker Sam Cane was redcarded.

It says everything about their fighting spirit that they were a conversion and then a penalty miss away from the most unlikely World Cup final win.

France, fabulous when at their best, are

Crushed at losing the World Cup to South Africa in front of their home fans, France have not recovered emotionall­y

feeble at their worst.

And in Marseille they were fragile.

Ireland were good, without being outstandin­g, but if this was the game that the world wanted for a World Cup final, thank goodness they did not get it.

Media outlets in the northern hemisphere previewed Friday night’s showdown as the World Cup final that should have been and the one “everyone wanted to see”. Clearly, the poll did not extend to the southern hemisphere rugby supporters who got the 2023 final they wanted in South Africa versus New Zealand.

The northern hemisphere arrogance has no equal in rugby, despite England’s 2003 World Cup success being their only statement in 10 attempts, with South Africa (four), New Zealand (three) and Australia (2) combining for the other nine titles.

Ireland’s performanc­e is the one that would have had Rassie Erasmus’s attention, and it was good enough to suggest we are in for a cracker two-Test series in South Africa in July. It is a pity it is not a three-Test series because in three Tests there is mostly a winner.

Two Tests, though, are more than rugby supporters in South Africa have had since Ireland last year toured the Republic in 2016. That series was drawn one-all after Ireland beat the Springboks 26-20 at Newlands in Cape Town.

Ireland have also not lost to the Springboks since Rassie Erasmus has been involved. They have only played twice in six years, once in Dublin (19-16) and at last year’s World Cup when the Boks’ indifferen­t goalkickin­g cost 11 points and Ireland won 13-8.

The Boks recovered to win the World Cup and Ireland fell for the eighth time in eight quarterfin­al attempts. Incredibly, for all Ireland’s improvemen­t over the past decade, they still have never experience­d a World Cup semifinal.

The Six Nations is where they have made their statements and in Marseille they were bold in a bonus-point victory that in all likelihood will define their Six Nations campaign and the tournament’s outcome.

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