France playing down Grand Slam talk

Raphael Ibanez claims France are putting off any thoughts of an Six Nations Grand Slam until after their crunch match with England in a fortnight’s time.

With the world champions losing heavily to Ireland on Saturday night, Les Bleus’ 32-21 defeat of Wales at the Stade de France hours later means they are the only unbeaten team left in the tournament.

France have matches against England and Scotland to come, and their strong performances so far make them favourites to go on and claim the Grand Slam.

Ibanez, who plays in the Guinness Premiership with Wasps, is trying to keep a lid on any premature celebrations ahead of the Twickenham encounter on March 11th.

“We know now that in winning one of the two remaining matches we will win the tournament,” the hooker said.

“The Grand Slam? We will see after Twickenham.

“It is true that I rub shoulders with them [England’s players] on a daily basis.

“They are mighty competitors and demanding players. I am not expecting anything but a hot reception at Twickenham.

“We must not go into the match thinking it will be an insurmountable task, rather a fantastic challenge for the squad who has proved it is capable of adapting to different situations.”

Both Ibanez and France head coach Bernard Laporte were shocked to hear of England’s 43-13 Croke Park thumping at the hands of Ireland.

“Since the start of the tournament, the English have shown some good things, notably in the first two matches against Scotland and Italy,” Ibanez said.

“The large defeat to Ireland is a little surprising. We will take the time to analyse that with the staff.”

Laporte added: “I was surprised to hear of the England result.

“The English will want revenge and, against us for sure, they are going to put a new dimension on their game. It will be a big match.”

The conservative thinking regarding a possible Grand Slam success has not spread to every Les Bleus player, however.

Flanker Julien Bonnaire said: “Of course we are thinking about the Grand Slam.

“How couldn’t we be after three successes and before a meeting against England, who must be traumatised by their failure in Dublin.”


365 Digital

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