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French Rugby Column 250 || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 2 min read

With the French domestic rugby season on a small hiatus for the
festive period I was forced to find more general oval ball subjects to
discuss when invited round to a friend’s house for one of a frankly
punishing series of Christmas/New Year food blowouts. Over a – count
‘em – five hour meal consisting of all sorts of things that are very bad
for the digestion and tremendously good for the soul, Pelou and I had
ample opportunity to discuss a number of rugby themes, from the
barmy over-hyping of Dan Carter’s debut performance for Perpignan,
through the difficulties faced by our local club Albi and onto the
forthcoming Six Nations tournament.

The one thing we found ourselves in complete agreement over where
the latter is concerned was the fact that our premier Northern
Hemisphere tournament currently lags a long, long way behind the Tri-
Nations in terms of pure quality. This much, we concurred, can be
seen as clear as day in the quality of Southern Hemisphere players
being imported by both the French and English top flight clubs right
now. With one or two honourable exceptions the guys joining our elite
– from New Zealand and South Africa in particular – are players who
are either in the twilight of their international careers and who have
decided to cash in on their talents in the loot-rich North, or they’re
guys who’ve decided they’re never going to be key players in their own
national set-ups.

And yet these are the very ‘rugbymen’ who are lighting up our clubs,
our leagues and our games the most consistently. Pelou had watched
Harlequins’ festive Twickenham encounter with Leicester on French
satellite channel Canal Plus and he quite rightly picked out Quins’ Nick
Evans and the Tigers’ Scott Hamilton as the game’s standout
performers. But neither of these guys could establish themselves as
guaranteed shoo-ins in Graham Henry’s New Zealand team. Over here
in France two of the players who’ve most consistently impressed me
this season are the South African flankers Gerhard Vosloo of Brive and
Gerrie Britz of Perpignan. Britz had previously made minimal impact
with the Springboks and Vosloo has no international caps to his name
at all. Yet they’ve made everyone in France sit up and take notice by
turning in great performance after great performance.

So if the Southern Hemisphere cast-offs are turning out to be the best
players in our domestic leagues, then it really isn’t any wonder that
our Six Nations lags so far behind the Tri-Nations, is it? Nor is it hard
to fathom why England lost against all of the Southern Hemisphere
‘Big Three’ back in the autumn. Pelou, meanwhile, is firmly of the
opinion that had France played South Africa and New Zealand instead
of just Australia during the same period, then his national team would
have been beaten as comprehensively by the Boks and The Blacks as
were England.

All of this is no doubt deeply disturbing for Martin Johnson and Marc
Lievremont and for the future of both the English and the French game
at international level in the long term. But as the cognac came out at
my pal’s house following a fantastically convivial day, I have to admit
that somehow it didn’t seem quite so troubling to Pelou and me after
all.