Marc Lievremont and his merry band of fishermen
France have been rejuvenated under the guidance of Marc Lievremont and his merry band of fishermen. Les Bleus looked beatable in their first two games but a commitment to their instinctive, attacking style of play deserves great credit. With eight tries in 160 minutes of rugby, the French offer a unique talent and flair to the competition. In previous articles, I have referred to an ‘ugly win’ and how a victory is all important. Yet I admire the way in which Lievremont has gone about picking his squad for this year’s tournament. It could be that England’s pack roll the French over and restrict the opportunities for Cedric Heymans, Vincent Clerc and Aurelien Rougerie. Yet part of me wants to watch these players running with ball in hand, as it is quite simply one of the great sporting sights. Players like Clerc are in the same bracket as Shane Williams, Brian Habana and Daniel Carter - capable of electrifying a game of rugby.
A year of transition is not accepted in England
Lievremont is building a team and he wants them to play in a certain style. Brian Ashton’s problem is that a year of transition is not accepted in England. We as a nation would rather battle through test after test with the same players, being driven by rolling mauls, a strong scrum and a massive pack, than sacrifice one or even two years creating a dazzling young team capable of enthralling Twickenham. One of England’s squad has already shown himself to be an ideal candidate for such a team and at the very highest level. For most of our campaign, and most probably for Saturday’s game he will be languishing on the bench. In the World Cup Final, Matthew Tait came of age and many predicted that he would be a mainstay of this team but it is typical of the English to resort to pragmatism even in the face of such talent. When Ashton was first appointed, those in the know stated that he would distance the side from the dour, forward orientated displays of the England team under Andy Robinson and Clive Woodard. Yet the only difference between the infuriatingly nondescript Ashton and Woodward is the former’s lack of belief in his own philosophy. Even after reaching the World Cup Final, he was criticised by some of his senior players!