Without wishing to pander to the stereotypes, England should be wary of the French threat this weekend, particularly after reports have emerged that the French players are on the verge of mutiny.
At the 2011 World Cup the French players famously squad staged a coup d’etat against coach Marc Lièvremont, after losing to Tonga, before coming within a Stephen Donald kick away from beating the All Blacks in the final. France are at their best with their backs to the wall, with their emotions through the roof.
This mutiny has been egged on by reports in the French press and the ever-vocal, ever-irritating, ever-mercurial Toulon president, Mourad Boudjellal.
“You are there for your career and for your country; you are there for French rugby to see if you can win this World Cup — but we will only get there if you take control,” Boudjellal exclaimed yesterday, in his trademark overstated style.
Boudjellal went on, “something is going wrong, so it’s over to you guys. Tell the coaches to go on holiday. Write your story yourself… there are guys in this group who will be major coaches in the future, so start to be a big coach today. Kick the coaches out, take control, because we are ready to follow you.”
This is obviously an over-dramatised interpretation of events, a call to arms. But more sober journalism in the French press this week has suggested that captain Guilhem Guirado, perhaps the French only player in the last half a decade who has consistently performed to a high standard, has been jettisoned not only from the starting lineup but the entire decision making process, and now only learns of selection changes via social media.
This is said to have caused a rift between the players and management. There have been plenty of articles this week suggesting, as a result, that France are in ‘chaos’ or ‘disarray’ or ‘turmoil.’
The English playing and coaching team have been quick (correctly so) to dismiss this as irrelevant.
According to Neal Hatley, the England scrum coach, “they’re a long way from disarray. They’re unbeaten. It’s weird how they’re being described by Mourad.
“They lost to Tonga in the 2011 World Cup and made the final.”
Ben Youngs struck a similar tone, “in 2011 something very similar happened and they ended up making the final, and they could’ve won it. So we don’t read into anything like that.”
The cliche of French unpredictability rings as true as ever. They will be fired up, even more so as a result of their traditional mid-tournament meltdown, they have some genius individuals, Antoine Dupont foremost amongst them, and will be dangerous come Saturday. England are right to be wary.
Written by Joe Ronan