England must prepare for the brilliant and bonkers French.. who would have a glass of red, foie gras and a cigarette before trainingFebruary 8, 2019
OVER the last 17 seasons I have played rugby all over the world.
I’ve had stints in England, Japan, New Zealand and France so I’ve seen a fair bit.
And last Friday’s French performance against Wales summed them up — brilliant and bonkers all in one match.
That is what England must prepare for on Sunday.
My two years playing for Stade Francais was just as crazy as you could imagine.
The French are even more passionate about rugby than our own English fans.
Rugby has a place in their hearts alongside football.
I had no idea what to expect when I went over to Paris in 2009, I just knew that Stade played in pink.
The club and its Galacticos were known as the playboys of the French league.
They had more talent in their squad than most Test teams and I was playing with world-class stars such as Sergio Parisse, Dimitri Szarzewski, Julien Dupuy and Juan-Martin Hernandez.
However, things did not get off to the best of starts.
In my first year, we had three different head coaches and an endless churn of backroom staff.
I can assure you it was nothing to do with my terrible chat, simply that if you don’t get results in France, emotions run high and owners are not afraid to sack everyone. Yes, everyone!
It wasn’t long before I was wondering what the hell I had done leaving Wasps to come play in France.
One rainy Tuesday, me and Ollie Phillips — the former England Sevens skipper — were out on the pitches at 9.45am waiting for training to start 15 minutes later.
As time ticked on, I was concerned that we were missing a team meeting. But just as the panic was setting in, all the other players came pouring out of the sheds.
Two lads were carrying shopping bags, one had a wallpaper pasting table and another held a tablecloth.
We just gawped as they set it all up. Two bottles of wine, a bit of French bread, a plate of saucisson, foie gras . . .
Training was starting in five minutes. My team-mates were getting stuck in, laughing, drinking and scoffing. One of the lads shouted to us: “Oi, Roast Beef! Come!”
I looked around and realised that Roast Beef must be us. So I thought: ‘When in Rome . . . ’ Or in this case, Paris.
They handed us a glass of red, a baguette smothered in pate and some saucisson. It turned out one of the lads had brought in delicacies from his home town and we all had to share them.
So we drank the red, ate the food, the lads put out their cigarettes . . . and then off we went to train.
C’est la vie!
I’d like to say this was not normal, but I’d be lying.
Jacques Brunel’s Test side will be reeling from last weekend’s cock-up as they gifted Warren Gatland’s boys a record Six Nations comeback win after being 16-0 in front at Stade de France.
I wish I could say that loss was a one-off but it seems to happen regularly with them.
It’s bizarre, as the French are probably more talented than any other from the northern hemisphere.
The emotional side of their game is always something to behold and probably goes some way to explaining so many ups and downs.
There isn’t a lot of structure around game-plans or training — or at least there wasn’t during the two years when I was there.
Most teams, including England, have a clear way they want to play and that showed in Ireland. They have specific running lines and a structure.
In France, you rely on playing what’s in front of you, which is why the rugby romantics love them so much.
However, it’s not easy, and when you aren’t getting over the gain-line it means that things can end up all over the place.
When you get it right, though, you can destroy any opposition.
To make matters worse, you often don’t know the team until the end of the week, so you’re hardly across all the lineout moves and set plays.
Throw in fiery French passion and it’s hard to get control.
If you have no structure and rely on emotion, it’s tough. Back in the day, you could win ten games a season on emotion.
Now, you’ll win nothing.
France can beat anyone on their day but if they don’t address their structure or the mental side of the game, issues like last Friday will keep on happening.
You never know what French side will turn up, but Eddie Jones will have England prepared to face the best.
England will win at Twickenham on Sunday but they need to stop this massive French side’s go-forward — which is easier said than done when a few of them resemble Portakabins with faces.
Let them play loose and it opens up their offloading game, which could bring chaos.