It is a peculiarity of the English psyche that we seem to take as much glee from seeing the French sitting at the bottom of the table after the first two rounds of the Six Nations as we do from seeing England at the top. Even the prosaic Gabby Logan afforded a wink to the camera after noting that every team had managed at least a win…apart from France.
The pre-tournament favourites have looked rudderless, with Freddie Michalak in particular the target of heavy criticism from fans and pundits alike. Perhaps it is because the 30-year-old stand-off embodies what drives us nuts about the French. A swagger that exudes what is tantamount to contempt for his opposition and a laissez-faire attitude to the dirty work that he assumes will be done for him. Prior to the Wales match, Clive Woodward ran an interesting piece of analysis that highlighted how Michalak’s callousness led to Martin Castrogiovanni’s ultimately decisive try. Michalak is a luxury France can no longer afford.
The assumption that they will breeze past their opponents has fed its way to the fans, with deafening whistles ringing out from a fevered Parisian crowd as early as the 50th minute. This is not an atmosphere you would expect at Dublin or Murrayfield. The French need to shed their air d’arrogance and realise that no team can expect to win any game in the Six Nations.
They would do well to observe Chris Robshaw’s ox-like performances against Scotland and Ireland in particular. The England skipper has been a titan for his side in recent games, leading from the front in a way that surely puts him in contention to lead the Lions to Australia later this year. Along with Stuart Lancaster, he seems to have achieved with this England side what has hitherto been unknown – the creation of a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. With the possible exception of Manu Tuilagi, there are no flashy, star individuals, only a group of players that seem to have developed a unity and work ethic that appeared to be sadly absent at the last World Cup. The Red Rose has made the best possible start to its 2013 campaign and can head into the mini-break full of confidence.
Beware, however, a hapless-looking French side. It was not so long ago that they were losing to Tonga amid derision at the 2011 World Cup, before coming within a point of stealing the championship from the previously untouchable All Blacks. England’s clash with France at Twickenham offers a chance to add further gloss to that already picturesque table, but they must avoid making the same mistake as the French in thinking that the game is as good as won. But with Robshaw and Lancaster at the helm, it seems unlikely that England will spare the French from the guillotine and an England victory over their old rivals would push France ever closer towards the wooden spoon, which could be equally as sweet as edging themselves closer to a Grand Slam. As one astute pundit noted, after watching French heads bowed into their palms at the final whistle in Rome, there really is nothing quite as satisfying as watching a Frenchman cry.