Spectator sport

I miss the days when French rugby was great. Thierry Dusautoir must, too

Plus: Welcome back, Padraig Harrington

7 March 2015

9:00 AM

7 March 2015

9:00 AM

It used to be such a treat of a winter weekend, sitting down to watch France against Wales in Paris in the Six Nations. And not just because of the anthems. There would be the prospect of seeing players like Sella, Serge Blanco, the Williamses, JJ and JPR, Philippe Saint-André, Scott Gibbs, Rives, Jenkins — an almost endless list of exquisite, fluid runners, the essence of rugby genius. Now less so. It’s Mathieu Bastareaud and Jamie Roberts, a fifth of a ton of gristle and bone, banging into each other.

The main question now is quite how poor Les Bleus will be. You can see it all in the resigned but deeply fed-up expression on the face of Thierry Dusautoir, the French captain. This is somebody who knows he’s better than all the rest, but beyond a certain point there’s not much more he can do. And the next best player in his side, Morgan Parra, the scrum-half with the soulful stare, will for unfathomable reasons always be substituted.

No wonder poor Thierry is so melancholy. ‘Who have these idiots sent me this time? I could kick goals better than that red-haired fool with the Spanish name at fly-half, and I am just a back-row forward. Even my wife could kick goals better than him. Now we have lost to a tiny country with terrible weather, which has never experienced a Renaissance, has no tradition of great food and wine, and certainly no ski slopes. And up in the stands there’s the great Serge. What is he thinking about? Judging by his size, just where he can get a decent crème brûlée in Paris. Oh well, it’s Italy for Les Bleus in Rome next. God knows what might happen there, though at least there will be a decent dinner afterwards.’

England’s cricketers piled up a solid total against Sri Lanka in the World Cup, 300-plus, a bit stodgy, but it should, you felt, have set our opponents a proper challenge. Hmm. As England worked their way through the overs, you could see Kumar Sangakkara behind the stumps, a smiling, even wolfish, expression on his face. It was, worryingly for England, obvious that Sanga fancied a bat. He could look at England’s attack and know that there were probably better net bowlers in Colombo. And so it came to pass as Broad, Anderson, Finn and Woakes were duly flayed round the ground. This was a dismal show by England.

It has been a hugely enjoyable World Cup, though there is something wrong with a competition format when a side can be thrashed three times in their first four matches — as England were by Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka — and yet still feasibly qualify for the quarter-finals if they beat Bangladesh and Afghanistan by one run.

At least the competition has had some great matches, but generally only when the associate nations — the so-called minnows from Ireland, Scotland, Afghanistan and the UAE — are involved. And yet the world governing body wants the next World Cup, to be played over here in 2019, to feature only ten sides. Madness. If they must lose a few teams from the competition, maybe England should be told to sit the next one out?

Great news for anyone who wants to believe in second acts came with Padraig Harrington’s victory in the second play-off hole at the Honda Classic in Florida. For a time he was ranked world No. 2, when Woods in his pomp was No. 1. Then he decided to change his swing, and went down and down to 297, losing his Ryder Cup place. Now what seemed like a terrible decline is over. Afterwards he spoke emotionally about how awful it was, always being out of contention. No fun, no fun at all. This feels different. Welcome back, Padraig.

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Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.

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  • Fenman

    France will probably win the European Cup, or whatever its called now, yet again, so the problem is not with the players, but the management, as everyone knows apart from aforesaid management. Frankly, they wd be better off with no coach and letting Dusatoir pick the side.
    You are right about Wales , as Gatland has jettisoned nearly all creativity from the team in a dumb strategy which relies on physical domination, so when they fail to dominate in the forwards the backs have not a clue what to do but kick. Their most consistently creative player who was excellent for Gloucester last weekend, is not even in the squad. The SH must be laughing.

    • kevinlynch1005

      The leading French clubs barely contain any French players so using the European Cup as a bell-weather of the health of French national rugby will get you nowhere! Look at Toulon, the best “French” side in the competition and likely winners. When it comes to mercenaries, it makes English Premiership soccer look like patriots!