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French Rugby Column March 15 || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 2 min read

I admit it. I’m clutching at straws now. But if England are to beat the
French in their own back yard next Saturday night in the final game of
the 2010 RBS 6 Nations, then we’ll have to rely on the fact that France
have found it impossible not to turn in at least one below par
performance each tournament in recent times. And let’s not forget that
we’re also something of a Six Nations bogey team to France, having
beaten them more or less against the odds in the last two
tournaments.

Why have France been so indisputably the best outfit during this
tournament? Well, the simple answer is their ability to get over the try
line, of course. Marc Lievremont’s men have scored 13 tries in their
five games, while England have managed just five five-pointers. The
fluidity with which France disposed of Italy last Sunday at the Stade de
France, running in six tries in the process, in comparison to England’s
laboured performance in securing victory in Rome, perhaps says most
about the difference in the two teams just now. France were inspired,
playing with a fluidity and a joie de vivre which no-one else has
managed in what has largely been a largely tedious competition.

True, as Italy coach Nick Mallet himself said, this was the Azzurri’s worst
display of the campaign. True, France conceded two tries to the
visitors at the death. And true, England do often have the hoodoo over
France when you least expect it. But even the most dyed-in-the-wool
Englishman has to admit that the portents aren’t good for Saturday.
People have been scratching their heads trying to work out why the
English national team has stuttered. Fingers have been pointed in a
number of directions and perhaps nowhere more so than towards the
issue of relegation from the Guinness Premiership having a negative
effect on the national team. When the stakes are so high and the
prospect of dropping out of the top flight so potentially catastrophic in
financial terms, Premiership coaches are forced to play conservatively,
are forced to opt for experience over youth and are forced to play a
short-term game.

The only spanner in the works as far as this argument is concerned is
that the French operate a system of promotion and relegation just as
the English do, even though there are a further two clubs in the French
top flight. But at a time when English rugby is constantly wringing its
hands over the amount of rugby our top players are being asked to
play, increasing our top division by two clubs would doubtless cause

howls of absolute indignation. And if we really did do away with
relegation, then what incentive would there be for aspiring and
ambitious clubs like Exeter Chiefs to reach for the stars?
Of course we all want to see a successful England team, but let’s not
forget that the French have had plenty of dark nights of the soul,
rugby-wise, in the five years since I moved here. Sport goes in cycles,
sometimes very long cycles, and sometimes maybe we just have to
accept that.