February 25th, 2011
03:48 PM ET

Will French barbs derail England's rugby revival?

England are fired up after winning their first two Six Nations matches against Wales and Italy.
England are fired up after winning their first two Six Nations matches against Wales and Italy.

When you say you don’t like your opponent, just days before a potentially championship-deciding match, it’s going to create a stir. But I believe England’s rugby players couldn’t care less about Marc Lievremont’s provocative remarks.

Not only did the France coach express his dislike for England, he also claimed the other four teams in the Six Nations tournament felt the same way. According to Lievremont, his cross-channel neighbors are “insular.”

Speaking to England manager Martin Johnson, scrum-half Ben Youngs and try-scoring sensation Chris Ashton at a team bonding exercise last week, there was a very dispassionate response when I raised the subject of the French.

There were slight smiles at first. They mentioned the unpredictable nature of French rugby; how Les Bleus, at times, mix brilliance with ordinariness. But England’s boss and his players assessed France’s strengths and weaknesses no differently to any other side.

Although my interviews happened before Lievremont’s news conference, none of the comments from the England camp since then have been any different. Johnson and his men know there is history between the two countries but their attitude seems to be, why add to the hype when it’s a big-enough match as it is?

With the 2011 Rugby World Cup looming in the background, it’s a crucial period for both sides, but especially England. France, at least, have won trophies in recent seasons. They are the reigning Six Nations champions and Grand Slam winners.

In contrast, England won’t need reminding they haven’t won the competition since 2003. Johnson was still playing then, and captain of the team that went on to lift the World Cup that year. That was why his appointment as manager was greeted so enthusiastically in 2008.

For the first time since then, England are showing signs they could match the achievement of the side that Johnson led to glory in Australia eight years ago.

On the day CNN filmed the squad, there was a lot of friendly banter as England’s players drove Land Rovers around a test track. They were loudly ribbing each other, the way only good mates can. It was a fun day out more than an exercise because the team spirit is clearly very good already.

In that controversial media briefing, Lievremont also said France and England have nothing in common. When it comes to rugby performances, he may soon wish the opposite were true.

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Filed under:  Rugby
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Hugme

    I have no idea what you're talking about. Does India got a National Cricket Team?

    February 26, 2011 at 3:22 am | Reply
  2. Phil

    This is racism by the French, pure and simple. On the continent where I live as an English ex-pat, such overt racism with zero shame is the accepted norm. Anglosaxon is becoming the new cosmopolitan.

    February 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Reply
  3. RussH

    France is lucky they are not speaking German. They should be happy they have neighbors that helped them out in two World Wars, plus us Americans and other countries.

    February 26, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  4. nyko95

    if you're not English now, thanks to French, you're not smart

    February 27, 2011 at 7:22 am | Reply
  5. Verbodentevoeren

    The UK helped France out in WW1 and WW2? Dude... if the UK would be the direct neighbor of Germany and France was on an island the history would be totally different. The British got their butt kicked in the battle of Dunkirk. The French helped them escape back to their relative safe island. German tanks were not able to follow them over sea. The only reason the UK survived the war is because of Russia and the USA. And this is all about WW2. In WW1 nearly 2 million French died. They did the biggest contribution of all. But this is not about World Wars, (most recent one happened 70 years ago) but about a game called Rugby.

    February 27, 2011 at 11:02 am | Reply
  6. Syracuse

    @Verbodentevoeren

    You're right, this is supposed to be about rugby. However, you need to give a fair account if you are going to lambast us with your rather skewed understanding of Dunkirk etc...

    Firstly, go read up on the actions and counter-actions taken by the retreating British forces, who had no radios below battalion level to coordinate against the full scale attacks by Germany. They did pretty well. Also, the British managed to hold a thin corridor open against almost the entire German advance to allow an eventual 330,000 troops to evacuate to England. They weren't just British evacuees either.

    NEVER forget that Germany were the evil perpetrators who were convinced that they should invade and massacre and that they followed a SINGLE dictator with frenzied and misplaced pride.

    It is thanks to the British and Americans that Russia wasn't allowed to put Germany to the sword in its entirety at the end of the 2nd World War, although it is clear that East Germany's fate was a testament to what Russia had in mind for every German.

    There were many reasons why Britain survived WW2, such as massive tactical failure on Hitler's part, good fortune that Britain had the English Channel as a natural barrier to invasion. Immense and undisputed British pride and fighting courage (think: RAF outnumbered 3:1 by the Luftwaffe and still crippling the Luftwaffe into submission).

    Clearly, you are too young to even comprehend what it must have been like to live through such troubling times, as your comments are so narrow-minded and inappropriate considering the millions of lives that were given to make sure a dictator who had a penchant for genocide didn't succeed with his plans.

    Do not belittle the efforts of any of the Allied forces – they all played their part.

    March 5, 2011 at 3:36 am | Reply

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