Keith Richardson column: What has happened to the French – they are more English than the English
ONCE upon a time there was a rugby team that could play the game with deftness, touch, feeling, ingenuity and, at times, against what was deemed possible.
That team was France, but professionalism has damaged their sense of direction.
They play their best centre on the wing, select a scrum-half at fly-half and realise all is not well far too late.
Finally they select a true ten for Twickenham – only to withdraw him once again for Freddie Michalak … who plays scrum-half at his club.
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Then dear old Philippe decided to substitute his tighthead prop, who was single-handedly mullering the red roses!
If nothing else, France can be volatile. Sometimes it works spectacularly and they score at ease; occasionally they implode. But at least that's conviction.
At HQ the referee's performance should have left them feeling hung out to dry.
On occasions like this France are supposed to throw all of the toys out of the pram at one glorious go – but nothing happened.
They displayed the stoicism and stiff upper lip of les rosbifs, the straight-bat of the English – not even a hint of a tantrum.
France in full fancy would have walked off the pitch in protest.
They have even started playing Premiership rugby – grunts, collisions, recycling through phases and time-consuming passages of play that seemingly go nowhere.
And yet all this from a side with Wesley Fofana: a player of real world-class attacking ability.
Watch the top French teams and the patterns are so very close to the English game. Of course you have to have possession to play, but watching Sumo wrestlers in the centres does scant justice to the wonder that was once France.
There is currently more 'French' play at Gloucester than across the Channel: though scraping Worcester victory through last-gasp penalty-try hardly indicates rude health.
Gloucester still have the ability to confound delightfully – then give it all away with crass errors. But at least the side is trying to play.
Bath tonight will be a tough one as they are having a bit of a resurgence.
Gloucester have the nuts and bolts to beat them if they can match pragmatism with glory.
Not an easy mixture, but France used to manage it all the time.
And if those Gallic unpredictables were once capable, surely Gloucester can be now.