February 10th, 2011
08:26 PM ET

Why France are the Harvey Two-Face of world rugby

 France's 34-21 win over Scotland in their Six Nations opener was in sharp contrast to their defeat to Australia last year.
France's 34-21 win over Scotland in their Six Nations opener was in sharp contrast to their defeat to Australia last year.

If you like to be surprised, keep your eyes trained on France’s rugby team this year. They should be the northern hemisphere’s leading candidates to win the World Cup but their sheer unpredictability makes it impossible to declare that with any confidence.

France seems to have the unique knack of serving up inspiring victories and embarrassing defeats in equal measure; a seven-try thriller to start the defence of their Six Nations title coming just a couple of months after a 43-point thrashing by Australia.

It reminds me of the scene in the last Batman movie when the camera slowly moves around dashing District Attorney Harvey Dent to reveal the horrific injuries on one side of his face.

If it’s making you cringe right now, just thinking about it, that’s exactly what I mean. The French side has the ability to make your lip curl in disgust moments after coaxing a broad smile with a delightful turn of pace, deft handling or thumping forward play.

We often call it Gallic flair; more like Gallic scare. In the Batman comics, Dent is a hero turned villain and many would say the same is sometimes true of France. They are the Two-Face of world rugby.

France have dominated European rugby over the last decade, winning four of the last seven Six Nations Championships, including the Grand Slam last year. However, the team has fallen at the semifinal stage in the last two World Cups, losing to England each time.

Perhaps 2011 will be different. Club rugby in France seems stronger than ever. The teams are wealthy enough to recruit some of the best players in the world and their results in the Heineken Cup reflect that.

European club success doesn’t automatically mean the French side will get better but anyone who questions their professionalism is living in the past. Gone are the days when a France team would lose an important international purely because of indiscipline on the field.

Going back to the World Cup, it’s important to balance France’s two semifinal defeats with the fact they have also reached the final twice – and only in 1991 has the team failed to reach at least the last four.

Conceding three tries against Scotland last weekend shows France still have work to do but some of their attacking moves were breathtaking, especially François Trinh-Duc's between-the-legs pass to set up Imanol Harinordoquy's try.

Now, their next match against Ireland will reveal their consistency. The Irish struggled against serial wooden spoon side Italy in the opening round of the Six Nations; so an easy victory for France then? Depends which face they show.

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Sachiko

    Hi Alex. A prospective view of match-up, head-to-head type sport is difficult in that the way of play depends a lot on the opponent. Brilliant performance in one match isn't necessarily applicable for another where it could suddenly be lackluster and vice versa, partly because of different opponents. Players have to take care of not only themselves but different opponents, that makes things complicated. Trinh-Duc's "avatar of Roger Federer" clutch pass paved the way for France, after that they were steady despite some resistance by Scotland. Inspiration and confidence, not to say it's all about, would be a big key for France to make it through, keep their dark side of face secret in six-nations and world cup. But confidence also has a kind of Harvey Dent, which sometimes puckishly transforms into conceit which could draw them in pitfall, that makes prospects more challenging.

    February 11, 2011 at 9:10 am | Reply
  2. Mogamberry Madivasan Moonsamy aka Spitter

    France's front row may be small in comparison to their international counterparts, but scrum coach Didier Retiere is convinced they will out-perform their Irish opponents in the Six Nations in Dublin on Sunday.

    Props Thomas Domingo and Nicolas Mas and hooker William Servat were about the only French players to be able to hold their heads up high after the 59-16 mauling by Australia last November, having got the better of the Wallabies' front three.

    Their effectiveness was on show again last Saturday in the opening 34-21 victory over Scotland as their dominance forced the Scots to collapse the scrum three times close to their line giving English referee Wayne Barnes no option but to award the French a penalty try.

    Retiere, a former prop for Creusot and Dijon, said that whilse some people outside of France may not understand it, a French audience delighted in such a spectacle as the scrums that produced the penalty try.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  3. Zayn Nabbi

    well called mate, i don't think anyone expected the irish to come that close after their insipid display against italy...but yeah if the french team can find some consistency, they will certainly challenge the southern hemisphere super powers at the world cup

    February 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Reply
  4. mikey from newzealand

    three to inconsistant but they knocked out NZ at last world cup, maybe they might do it again?

    February 24, 2011 at 12:42 am | Reply

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