Welcome back “le crunch” — we’ve missed you
There will be an extra buzz around Twickenham on Saturday and it will not be just because England fans know a win over France would set them up for their first Six Nations title for eight years.
“Le Crunch” is back, and then some. The fixture that was for so long the focal point of the championship gradually lost its allure as England dropped off the pace and Wales and Ireland became the main challengers, but with two wins apiece for the cross-channel rivals so far, it once again looks the pivotal match.
With the teams on course to meet again in the quarter-finals of the World Cup later this year there is an extra edge to the clash and just in case that was not enough, along came France coach Marc Lievremont to roll back the years with his extraordinary blast last weekend.
“We appreciate our Italian cousins with whom we share the same quality of life. We appreciate the Celts and their conviviality and then among all these nations we have one huge thing in common: we all don’t like the English,” he announced.
“This insular country, who always drape themselves in the national flag, their hymns, their chants, their traditions. They are people who one regards as a very proud people.
“We beat Ireland yet left Dublin with the encouragement of all the Irish who said ‘for pity’s sake, beat the English’. With the Scots, it’s the same thing. It is also what gives you strength against the English, more than just because of rugby.”
“Oh yes” the England players and fans must have thought when they first heard that, cueing flashbacks to the days when a few choice words from the likes of hooker Brian Moore would be enough for the French to implode, explode or more usually, both.
Year after year talented French sides would lose their heads, and the game, at one stage losing eight in a row between 1989 and 1995 including a World Cup quarter-final in Paris.
“We used to search for weaknesses in certain individuals and really put the pressure on them,” former England prop Jason Leonard wrote in his Evening Standard column this week.
“You still get the impressive there is a fragile shell and if things don’t go their way they could crack and revert to type, with the game becoming secondary and personal scores being settled,”
The current generation of England players are long-removed from the days of cheap shots and causal violence and they would like nothing better than a clean game, won by their try-scoring talents.
The home crowd, buoyed by an afternoon’s drinking before the 1700GMT kickoff, would appreciate that too but, if there was also room for a few scraps and maybe a moment or two of French red mist then a lot the England fans might think it was a case of so much the better.