Well I had a jolly old time chewing the fat live on air with former England hooker, legend and all-round loudmouth Brian Moore last night. Me in my role as French rugby correspondent for the UK radio station TalkSport. Him in his role as one of the station’s pundits. Brian is a fella with a thought for every occasion, a passionate rugby man who tells it as he sees it, more often than not with an endearing ability to cut through the bullshit and get to the nub of the matter in a heartbeat. He likes the sound of his own voice and it’s hard to get a word in edgeways when he’s on one, of course. But then again, what good is a pundit without ego, opinions and a quick-fire tongue?
Last night’s conversation centred around France’s train wreck of a World Cup to date and the reasons behind such a shambolic showing so far. And hasn’t it been truly shambolic?! If there were any justice in the world Marc Lièvremont’s Blues would already have been enjoying Air France’s hospitality on a flight back to Paris. But as it is it’s the heroic Tongans who are heading home and France who are preparing to front up to the old enemy England in the quarters in Auckland.
For me, it’s an intriguing match-up. England have stuttered, France have stalled. But Brian was telling me last night that there’s no way England will lose this game against a hapless, fractured, disjointed and dispirited French outfit. Me? Well I beg to differ...
I’d never be so bold or stupid as to suggest that I know more about the finer points of top-level rugby than a man who’s not only played for his country against France (and handed out a few shellackings to the boys in blue in the process!), but who has also since qualified as a ref so as to better understand the laws of the game. I have, however, lived in France these last seven years and reckon that this does give me a proper insight into the culture of the place – both rugby-wise and generally. This leaves me not in the least bit surprised to see the recent and very public fracturing of hierarchical relations between the players and coach Lièvremont.
France’s history as a socialist nation formed out of the blood and chaos of revolution has always left its indelible mark on boss-worker relations. Employees have never been as traditionally cowed before their paymasters (or as we English have traditionally called them, “the great and the good”) as they have been in England. The idea that workers have rights that bosses simply have to respect is fundamentally anchored in the French psyche and this often manifests itself across French society in underlings breaking ranks, speaking out and very publicly taking on the top dogs.
So whereas the English resolve issues behind closed doors – generally looking not to rock the boat, and certainly never in public – the French want to let it all hang out, for better or for worse.
Having made an almighty fuss and having decided that worker/player power simply must prevail, it’s entirely logical that France will now have a hugely-powerful psychological motivation to win next Saturday. Because if it’s the worker tail now wagging the boss dog, then by winning the game surely the players will be able to prove that they did indeed have it right all along. That they were entirely justified in speaking out in critical fashion in the media. And the fact that the English are a nation the French have traditionally had very little time for and love beating more than anyone else is just an added side-dish of incentive for next Saturday!
I’m not saying that France are definitely going to win this game. After all, England are world-renowned for cussedness, for rolling their collective sleeves up and getting the job done when things aren’t particularly going their way. And despite four victories and just one try conceded in the World Cup so far, off-the-field incidents have contributed to the English having a certain siege mentality of their own down in New Zealand. But anyone who thinks that this is going to be a cakewalk, that France are simply going to roll over and have their tummies tickled, is surely going to be in for a massive surprise. Brian Moore should know this more than anyone. He loved going up against the French simply because they were the French. It gave him extra motivation. Well you can rest assured that a player like Imanol Harinordoquy, a man never behind the door when it comes out to voicing a dislike of Les Rosbifs, feels exactly the same way about the English. Striking a blow for worker power and beating the English on the same day? Well it doesn’t get much better than that for his kind, does it?