25 Feb 2011

Let's crunch again

This photograph shows the scoreboard just after half-time at the Twickenham rugby ground during the last game played between England and France in the stadium that will harbour this Saturday's game between these two countries. I realise that, in showing it, I risk irritating some of my many French friends. Tant pis! The reason I have done so is not to suggest that this score (which included four tries) will be equalled in tomorrow's game. It is always very hard to predict the score of a rugby game and I will not attempt to do so this time. No, what this game showed, for the first time, were the intentions and capacities of the current English squad to play the kind of fast, attacking rugby that is the most attractive and successful currently being played in Europe at international level.

Since then, with a few blimps, they have continued with this style of play and its combination of cohesive force and speed, and it has gradually been mastered by the players. Even last year's game between France and England, played in Paris under poor weather conditions, was only narrowly won by France and it was England that made most of the play that day. The performances of the English rugby team during their summer tour to Australia, combined with their test matches last autumn and the first two games of the current 6-nations tournament, have shown that they are currently the only European side that has a serious chance of beating any of the top three world teams, all from the Southern Hemisphere: New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

As a lover of the rugby of movement, with the search for open spaces, a rugby where the ball-carrier tries to avoid or break tackles, remaining on his feet, and where individual and collective inspiration play a key role in creating suprises, I have been miserable in a recent past watching England play that boring, stereotyped game where players crash into the defense, lie down on the ball and lay it like an egg to the back-up players, rather like in Rugby League. The game I like to watch was played, occasionally, by France, often by Australia and almost always by New Zealand. Now England have managed to reinvent their rugby, and all true rugby fans should be glad, even if they wish for a French victory tomorrow.

I will watch the game here in France in a wine bar, surrounded by French people, friends and strangers, and applaud the team that plays the most beautiful game, even if I remain at heart an English supporter. It could be a very interesting game, with scrums fairly equal. Perhaps a slight advantage to France in this department. England probably have the edge in the line-out though, and they must have it in the back line, simply because their backs have been playing together for longer, and with more success, than the French who seem to change their team for almost every game. So England are the favourites for this game, but the French rugby team are never as dangerous as when they are the under-dogs, so it is not so easy to predict what will happen. Whoever wins this game has every chance of winning the tournament too, so it is like a final before the end, adding extra spice to the issue.

All I really wish for is a good game (and that expression will probably annoy some people further!)


  1. English… Well… This pernicious way of showing a kind of fair-play by starting the post with an ugly picture is typically the reason why they cannot have soul in their rugby's style. Yes, I am a bit agggressive ! I am French ! Pardon me David but you have made a mistake : the French cornerstone in rugby is our capability of adapt our way of playing to any team… We have never had a definite team : that's why it is so dangerous to play versus France.
    Oh ! Of course ! I wish you a good game as well !!

  2. Rugby is also a battle, as you well know! And the pictire is just a fact. France currently does not have a "regular" team that plays together often enough to know how to find each other without thinking, and this shows in their defensive and offensive play. Saying that they adapt their team to the opposition and to circumstances is just an excuse. The recent results speak for themselves I think. But I did say that they were dangerous, and they could win tomorrow.

  3. No matter how well they play , it’s the best chemist who wins ! Of course, now and again, accidents do happen.

  4. @Luc : let's send some mediator across the Channel !
    @David : you are probably right… Yet 4 Toulousains in the same team may help the play to be more fluid. Yachvili is perhaps the right 9 to speed up the play as well as make easier the scrums' job.
    Anyway, I couldn't accept we loose that game because you will have once again the privilege to display that typical English smile, which tell more than words !

  5. I will smile anyway, if the game is a good one.

  6. Your integrity is what I love the most my friend !
    See you for the game.

  7. @David: I’m sorry to spoil your pleasure with my obsession with doping and know you don’t like it. I will stop this in the weeks to come (promise). I also fully agree that, as everyone is taking them, it doesn’t change rivalry nor challenge and, moreover, it doesn’t do anything to the skill of the actors on the pitch. But, with regard to my past medical education, I cannot help but feel it is a disgrace to jeopardize the future health of skilled, strong and talented young men and women.
    @Olivier, I suggest they opt for fenfluramine instead. It’s another child of Jacques Servier’s brain - Grand-croix de la Légion d'honneur - which has been forbidden in 1997 (together with its dextrogyre isomer), some 30 years after its initial release. It was very similar to the molecule which contributed to poor Tom Simpson’s death. Actually, I swallowed some fenfluramine myself, then a legal drug (Ponderal® in Belgium) that inhibits in a very efficient way the impression of hunger. It was a period when I had stopped competition at a decent level (I was a foil-fencer) and was accumulating hours of professional sedentary presence, eating good food and tasting wines being my main leisure at that time!

  8. Luc, you do not spoil my pleasure by saying what you want to say with the honesty and talent that are part of your qualities. I have to confess my ignorance, and, probably, my innocence (or blindness) in this matter. I understand that many professional cyclists are well doped, but have a problem in believing that this is so extensive in rugby. Does not highly professional and long-term intensive training explain a lot about their performances on the field? As to their health, I can well believe that it is often damaged, but the repeated shocks between 100 kg and more bodies launched at each other in modern rugby must have their share of responibility.

  9. Profitability could be the reason why doping is present in all sports… Yet I will try to be more subtle : growth is the issue. Firstly our world economic model is "growth" so that we cannot consider any enterprise without growth. You would probably say : "quite normal"… So far I would nearly agree with you. Secondly let's add : what rate of growth ? Here we are : we do not respect any rate of growth. (just think about a comparison with vines…) We do not watch sport anymore, we watch records, we watch sensation. And unfortunately rugby won't be spared.

  10. It is getting heavy, pals ! But I can see your points, both of you. The sport issue is not as simple as that. Yes David, these champions are supernatural, all of them, and this is part of the problem, I agree. When Perpignan’s XXIII side hired a new Australian to help them out of their misery last year – didn’t help incidently – he litterally exploded the training bench (don’t know what you call this type of railway buffer onto which they thrust all their might, training for the scrums), such was his power. Yet the “thing” was in pristine working order and had seen generations of fighters use and peruse it. Clearly, the sheer power of these guys is prone to inflicting injury. Then, you have the origin of this power: training, scientific methods, number of hours spent ... for sure, but also a little help from my friends, the chemists. But there is more. When they are actually injured, the methods used to “repair” them is a far cry from academic medical or othopaedic treatment: all will do, if only they can be fit (or so-called fit) soon. Unhealed wounds and far-from-ready organisms are given access to the pitch again ... as long as it lasts. But this doesn’t deprive anyone of the visual pleasure to just watch them, I agree. My question remains: Carl Lewis – what a wonderful machine ! – was the first to regularly explode the 10 sec limit, I think. Would he have been less remarkable, had it been 11,5 sec ? I think not. In Rome as well, the visitors to the Circus Maximus wanted more blood, more spectacular blood, which would splatter at a longer distance and look even more red.
    Olivier, you touch upon a subject I’m really interested in for the moment: economic growth. I don’t want any of it: I want regression! Not because of some reactionnary anti-everything attitude. But for 2 simple reasons: (i) the failure of the capitalist system, inherent to its functioning and (ii) the inadequacy of all the world’s economists, without any exception.
    Mathematic models have shown “capitalism” only works in the presence of added value, either as increased value of the sold goods (an artificial element) or as larger volume of sales. The second solution makes better sense, I don’t deny it, but necessitates a growth in the market (new market or more eager market, or both). Nowadays, there is NO new market any longer (China and India have made their “coming-out”), and the overall world market’s demand is not increasing, to the contrary. So, the logical pump of growth is paralyzed. Only artificial increased value remains (stock-exchange and/or inflation, in other words) ... with the inevitable crashes and kraches now and again. I know, economist will tell you this is a greengrocer’s view on the subject and I lack the back-ground and education. I admit to the last part of the argument (my failing education). But they, who do know, have always failed to come up with a lasting solution. And they all differ as how to “treat” the very sick world economy. I know the reason: economy is not a science, but a huge bluff with its believers. And capitalism just doesn’t work, cannot work, because there is no such thing as endless growth, not even “sustainable” growth, to go with fashion.
    So please, let’s get back to “normal” human beings competing in sport, and drop the professional side, and let’s get rid of capitalism. People should earn according to their work, and the disabled should be taken care of by the community, full stop. And money, as such, shouldn’t be the origin of even more money. It’s no utopia and of course it takes rules - and probably ages as well -to achieve that. But at least, let’s start it!

  11. Ever heard of Galak, another child of “The baby-killer” ? Now they have bought Côte d’Or (a while ago) and swallowed phenomenal Pierre Marcolini – very much to my despair. And all that is part of Kraft company, the second sponsor (in value) of past-President Bush. What is the connection? ...........................
    Crunch (17 to 9)

  12. Sorry for answering late Luc, but I didn't look after your post. I can only agree with that ! And the fact is that it is not utopia is very worrying.

  13. I may sound emphatic ... and pathetic, but it took me the best part of 50 years to realize redistribution of wealth, retribution according to merits (to be defined) and a HUGE slowing down of so-called “progress” is no utopia at all. Even more, it is the only hope to keep this bloody planet alive for much longer. How come a lot of clever – I don’t deny it – people cannot realize that?
    I tutored a wine tasting in a Brussels restaurant, some 7-8 years ago (I wasn’t a wine-maker at that time, or then only on holiday), having been hired by the local branch of (hum, dare I say it?) ... Exon! They had a meeting with all the marketing managers from over 25 individual US states (Texas, California ... you name it) and Mexico as well, and had to be “entertained” at supper’s time. We had lovely wines – all French - and they enjoyed themselves. When the evening was over and I had done my duty, Dr Charlier stepped back and Mr. Jek ...iLéon made an appearance. I asked one single candid question: “What will happen in 30 years, when there is no longer any oil?”. I had expected an .... aula (Mexican Wave, David) of protest. Nothing of the like, their “chief” (hierarchy is very strong in US companies) answered: “ It is a serious problem ... but I won’t be there anymore to bother”.
    Maybe that’s the reason why some of our co-survivors just don’t care!