x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Six Nations: France coach Saint-Andre takes the brakes off

France winless in England for eight years and coach wants to 'take the fight to England' after disappointing start to campaign

France players train ahead of the clash with England.
France players train ahead of the clash with England.

LONDON // One of the first things that the former England captain Will Carling remembers about walking out on to the old Parc des Princes pitch ahead of taking on France in Paris in 1992 was that some of the French players were bleeding and sweating. Some were even shaking.

Les Bleus had worked themselves up into an almost Viking-like berserker state in preparation to face their bitter rivals.

Brian Moore, who was playing hooker for England that day, hearkened back to such brutal clashes with the French on Twitter yesterday: "England v France is the only game that still makes me want to be on the field. Have to settle for chanting, 'France, France, France, kill, kill, kill'."

Modern sport is simply not like this anymore, but at Twickenham today when the teams clash for the 97th time, you would not put it past Philippe Saint-Andre's visitors to stiffen the sinews and summon up some blood.

Carling and Moore inhabited an amateur world, whereas today's professionals are far more calculated. Statistical analysis of matches is coolly downloaded on to iPads for study. With the media carnival that surrounds players, alongside the requirement to sponsors, training and physiotherapy it is no surprise that an elite sportsman now sees match day merely as extension of their professional treadmill.

Except that is, unless you are French, who will be going eyeball to eyeball with the English having made the worst start since 1982 to the northern hemisphere's most prestigious tournament. Their professional pride has been hurt by the fact that their team and country have not won in London for eight years.

"We will have to show all our qualities of being French - that means being brave, daring, unpredictable and to take the fight to them," Saint-Andre said.

"When we are able to do that, we are able to pose problems for any team in the world.

"To be honest, it's always a good thing when we French have our backs to the wall. We need to play without the hand brake and be bold."

When he was a player in 1991, Saint-Andre scored one of the most delicious tries of his, and probably any wing's, career. From their own in-goal area, Les Bleus ran the ball all the way into England's half before Didier Camberabero, the French fly-half, squared the ball by half the pitch to find a galloping Saint-Andre to touch down.

It was Saint-Andre's first match of three against England at Twickenham and despite that try he never beat the English in London.

Successive coaches from Bernard Laporte to Marc Lievremont have tried to make the French more like England - pragmatic and successful. And yet despite some notable successes it goes against everything France stands for.

Consider their 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament. After the embarrassing defeat to Tonga, France limped out of their pool to the cacophony of in-fighting. France recovered to beat England in the quarter-finals and missed their first championship by a point against New Zealand.

France have a terrible record in London in recent times. And yet the last time they prevailed in 2005, they set a Six Nations record for overhauling the largest half-time deficit. France trailed 17-6 at the break before Dmitri Yachivili, the former scrum-half, roused his side to an 18-17 victory. Although they were pumped up in 1992, France lost. Despite Saint-Andre's phenomenal try a year earlier they lost that match, too.

It is going to take more than fancy rhetoric and a singular moment of brilliance to derail England's chariot tonight.

England have beaten Scotland at home and Ireland away so far this Six Nations.France have lost to both Italy and Wales, which is totally at odds with the pre-tournament expectations.

And yet how deliciously French it would be if they downed Stuart Lancaster's men on their own patch?

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