Why French rugby needs a Twickenham humiliation Posted about 11 years ago

I hope that France get stuffed at Twickenham on Saturday, although I have my doubts. I hope that France lose by 30 points. I hope that Les Bleus finish the match with 13 men, squabbling and fighting amongst themselves. Allez La France – to damnation.

I write this not as an Englishman, but as a lover of French rugby. Wayne Smith argues eloquently on this site that French flair is gone forever, a fairytale, but I am too much of a romantic to believe this. But I do recognise that something has to change if we are ever again to see a try from the end of the earth.

A crushing French defeat, followed by humiliation in New Zealand in the coming months, might force the gutless French Federation into finally taking some action. It might force them into appointing a revolutionary national coach and it might force them into doing something about their wretched club scene that is doing so much to wreck international rugby.

The French clubs have pillaged the top Welsh players. They have a number of fine Englishmen like the Armitage brothers. They have several Australians who would be invaluable to Robbie Deans right now. And they are ruining the development of French rugby.

Philippe Saint-Andre says, “We have to be aware of our identity. We used to have a Basque prop, a guy from Toulon on the other side, a Clermont hooker, perhaps. But now all the tighthead props are either from Tonga, Romania or Georgia.

“We have to be careful. What about fly-halves? What about wings, eh? Twenty of the 28 on show every week in Top 14 are non-French. So, when Vincent Clerc gets injured just before Le Tournoi, what can I do?

“I have big shoulders and I am happy to take the blame (for moving Wesley Fofana to the wing), but something must be done. It’s good to have players like Jonny Wilkinson come here, real stars, so we learn about professionalism.

“But the balance is completely wrong. Our top players play too much and our young boys do not play enough because their way through is blocked. It is a double problem. Everyone in our public has to recognise that the image of French rugby is the French team.”

Saint-Andre was slightly fanciful along the way, like suggesting that the top All Blacks played only 20 games a season, but on the Big Issue surely no one can deny him. International rugby is the pinnacle of the game. The Six Nations, Lions tours, World Cups, these are the events that truly bring people together. But France, wonderful, swashbuckling France, is being starved at its roots.

I remember as a kid being taken to a club barbecue at Beziers. The French clubs were part of the family, part of the community. Rugby was a way of life. But under the rich owners rugby has become a means of support. Those are two very different places.

So I hope France get murdered on Saturday. I hope that on Sunday morning they wake up and smell the coffee. I hope they remember how it used to be. I hope there is revolution on the streets of those great Southern towns.

Frederik Michalak said this week, “We need the spirit of the Brits, someone to crack the whip over us. You know, we French, we dwell on things too much, go in on ourselves. Jonny (Wilkinson) said to me: ‘You all talk too much.’ I said: ‘Welcome to France.’ Jonny has taught me the importance of moving on. Don’t look back. Look to the future.”

I am sorry Fred, but Jonny is wrong. France needs to look back. It needs to rediscover its past. It needs to be true to itself. Because rugby, like all sport, is ultimately about entertainment. French rugby used to be a beautiful and a brutal thing. But it has forgotten how to enjoy itself.

Will France take a beating on Saturday or is a revolution brewing? Comments below…

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Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

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