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French Rugby Column November 25 || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 2 min read

I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me what I
thought of France’s first two performances in their autumn series of
three against South Africa, Samoa and New Zealand. Standing in one
of the bars at the Stade Municipal after witnessing my local outfit Albi
squeak a vital home win over the aristocrats of Perpignan last Friday I
could see why everyone was so happy with Les Bleus’ barnstorming
start to their campaign. Not only has it got all rugby fans excited at
last about the possibilities for Marc Lievremont’s team, but it also
doesn’t half help when you come up against the league’s top outfit
when half of their best players are away on international duty!

To be fair the game was an utterly forgettable affair, only made more
unbearable for me on account of being a Perpignan supporter through
my connections with their long-serving prop and all-round gentleman
Perry Freshwater. So I was more than happy to divert attention away
from the defeat and discuss France’s thoroughly heartening
performances against the Springboks and the Samoans.

The French public has derived the most pleasure from the level of
appetite for the physical that their team showed, particularly against
the notoriously beefy South Africans. “Did you see that bloke Botha or
whatever his name was getting smashed to smithereens?” said a pal
as we both sat at the local swimming pool last night watching our
respective sons having their lessons. He was clearly relishing the level
of engagement France showed as they hustled the Boks out of their
stride and gave them something of a lesson at the breakdown. Too
many times of late France have capitulated in the face of physical
intimidation and recently the front row – an area which should simply
never, ever buckle if you happen to be born in the south west of
France – has been one of the national side’s weak spots. Lievremont
seems to have tackled those issues remarkably well, if we are to judge
on the performances of the last two weeks.

Of course there is the small matter of the All Blacks in Marseilles to
deal with this coming weekend. As I’ve been keen to point out to my
French rugby mates this week, we’ve all seen France pull off one or
two magnificent performances at international level in the past. What
will really make people sit up and take notice that here is a France side
truly to be reckoned with, though, will be if they can now manage a
clean autumn sweep and put the Kiwis to the sword with the same
efficiency with which they dispensed with South Africa and Samoa. It
won’t be easy, especially without the injured Harinordoquy and

Picamoles, but it’s also true to say that New Zealand regard France as
something of a bogey team. It’s all set up to be a classic encounter
and one that the whole of France will be watching with interest. If Les
Bleus can secure a win, then no doubt everyone here will immediately
start talking up their chances of World Cup victory in New Zealand in
2011. And who am I to stop them? It would be too cruel to mention
that they might just be peaking too soon, don’t you think?