Le Crunch is the game traditionally considered as the top draw of the Six Nations, despite the fact hat over much of the last decade, it has not been the case. Similarly, despite England’s recent woes in that tournament (this year being their first Championship win since their 2003 team preceded their World Cup victory with a Grand Slam) England have a very decent record against France of late, losing only one of the last five head-to-heads.
Similarly, Les Crunches have appeared quite a few times in RWC history with England’s only defeat coming in the 1995 Bronze Medal Match (which if the Mole can remember correctly also meant that England had to qualify for the next World Cup) while France have suffered key defeats in Sydney in 2003 and twice at home, at the Parc des Princes in 1991 and, most agrievously, in St. Denis in 2007.
In more recent historical events, both teams have popped out of their pools somewhat underwhelmingly. England squeezed out Argentina and Scotland with late tries after poor kicking displays from Zen Master Points Automaton le Jonny and generally unimaginative performances with the ball (against the bigger teams).
France meanwhile took a leaf out of their football team’s book and have used their World Cup as a platform to humiliate themselves and their coach with a lacklustre overall display where standard issue wins against Japan and Canada were followed by a drubbing by the All Blacks and a chastening defeat by minnows Tonga.
Supporters of both teams will be asking vital questions about their half-backs. England at one stage seemed to have had their decision made when it seemed that an arm injury was ruling Wilkinson out of the game. This would mean that backline mover and form kicker Toby “Busted” Flood would play. Flood’s introduction against the Scots provided England with their one bit of decent attacking play, where a lovely long skip pass (in addition to a flatter starting postion) created the room for prominent rugby dickhead and V-Gang member Chris Ashton to score in the corner and break Scottish hearts. Flood, for all his qualities, is not magnetically attracted to the World Cup Final in the way that Jonny is. The Guardian reports today that Johnson may opt for Wilkinson and Flood as Tindall struggles to recover from a leg injury, imposed unintentionally by Delon “Felon” Armitage, himself suspended for this game due to another trademark high and late shoulder charge.
France meanwhile have opted again for scrumhalf/flyhalf shapeshifter heartthrob Morgan Parra, after what can hardly be deemed a successful experiment with two defeats under his belt at 10 in the World Cup, leaving an upset Francois Trinh-Duc chewing on the bench. Indeed it may turn out that both teams start the game with their two place kickers on the field. In a tight game, the margins from missed kicks will be huge. France’s team record stands at 22/26 while Englands stands at 20/32 with each team adding a drop goal a piece.
Attacking, Defending & Discipline
With Jonny playing, missing kicks and generally setting his team deeper in the attack, it is unlikely that the White Orcs will be able to open up the French (assuming they decide to tackle) other than by a Manu Tuilagi mismatch (perhaps at Rougerie’s dodgy shoulder) or a Foden counterattack. The French meanwhile have a much more fluid style, better hands and more imagination, but they always have that against the English and those are the qualities that win warm-up matches, not quarter finals.
The English defence is strong but their Achilles heel is their discipline. With their ingrained Leicester cheatiness/winningness, the don’t half get themselves pinged a lot but at the same time have only conceded one try to Georgian number 8 Basilaia. However they have faced 23 placekicked penalties, and have been lucky to only concede 8 of them. Thats nearly an average of 6 penalty kicks at goal per game and 45 points left on the pitch against them which certainly could have proved crucial against Argentina and uncomfortable against Georgia. Only Scotland made held them to account for their infringements. Giving Yachvili 6 kicks at goals is not a good idea.
Another factor is that Steve “Fat Lash” Walsh is refereeing this one. Despite our occasional teasing of Clancy, here at Mole Towers we cannot help but feel that Walsh is the worst and most uncommunicative referee at the tournament. He rarely lets the teams know what he’s thinking at the breakdown and is prone to throwing hissy fits himself. If he get sick and tired of the English slowing opposition ball he could really get in a strop and put them in hot water. Then again, he may let it happen all day. It certainly is strange that the bi-lingual Alain Rolland has not been selected for a quarter-final despite being the best referee in the world 4 years ago.
With the obvious fragility in their mentality that the French have exposed, the bookies call this as a tight four point game with England as the favourites. Having been humbled at home by Argentina last time around and forced to play the quarter final of their home World Cup in Cardiff, they subsequently dumped out New Zealand, implying that you can never discount a big French performance. But there is only so mercurial you can be to win a World Cup. France don’t look like they have the mental for three wins in the knockout stage, but should that rule them out of upseting the apple cart against a thoroughly unimaginative and ill-disciplined English side?
England’s historical edge (seen above) again favours this annoying White Orcs bunch getting under the skin of Les Bleus. Can France play the kind of patient structured phases game to get territory and eventually penalties that far less talented (but more united) Argentine and Scottish teams imposed on England? The Mole is sceptical.
England XV: [Probable]: Stevens, Thompson, Cole, Deacon, Lawes, Croft, Moody, Haskell, Youngs, Wilkinson, Cueto, [Flood/Tindall], Tuilagi, Ashton, Foden
Replacements: Hartley, Corbisiero, Palmer, Easter, Wigglesworth, [Hape], Banahan
France XV: Poux, Servat, Mas, Pape, Nallet, Dusatoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy, Yachvili, Parra, Palisson, Mermoz, Rougerie, Clerc, Medard
Replacements: Szarzewski, Barcella, Pierre, Picamoles, Trinh-Duc, Marty, Heymans
Referee: Steve Walsh
Eden Park, 8.30am