A Glorious Cocktail of Sun, Beer and a French Defeat

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 16, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Glorious Cocktail of Sun, Beer and a French Defeat


Byline: Matthew Norman

ANY OF you turning to these pages for expert analysis will, I know, be thoroughly sated by the adjacent words of Chris Jones. So let me confess not only that I understand the finer points of rugby union half as well as I understand quantum gravity, but that yesterday's international was the first rugby union match I have ever attended.

It may not be the last, though, because while the pleasures of observing 30 men engaging in legalised psychopathy remains something of a closed book, a jaunt to Twickers on a warm spring day is a delight.

Now that the professional lobotomists of the Barmy Army have made live Test cricket such a trial for the ears, this must be as close to a slice of 1950s gentility as mainstream sport can offer.

They're all such thoroughly decent, bloody nice chaps, these rugby fans, that the walk to the ground is an unnerving time-warp experience.

So powerful is the conditioning from 35 years of walking to football grounds that in the concourse, where the fish and chip vans style themselves "gourmet", I was alarmed by the sight of a Frenchman in a beret.

Poised to warn him that it mightn't be wise to antagonise the home supporters, and that he should think about hiding the headgear, I looked down and saw he was wearing an England shirt. My God, I thought, these people actively try to make visiting fans feel welcome.

What is the world coming to? On the pitch, thankfully, there was no such entente cordiale, with France's finest moment behind them before the first whistle. In global sport, there is no more embarrassing national anthem mismatch than France vs England (or vs any British team). We have the absolute world's worst, even when sung by new nation's sweetheart Faryl Smith, and they have infinitely the best. Every time I hear La Marseillaise, I well up at the memory of the scene in Casablanca when Victor Laszlo stirs the Free French to sing it to drown out a touching Nazi ditty.

No sooner had the game begun, however, than it was the French who had cause to sob. I may know next to nothing about rugby union, but I know what I like ... and what I like is our boys giving the cheese-eating surrender monkeys the mother of all hidings.

Mark Cueto began the rout after barely a minute, and once Riki Flutey had added a second try, France's mistake was obvious even So for the jingoistic virgin, good as ever likely to this ignoramus -- they were redeploying the Maginot Line strategy that wasn't a tremendous success the first time round.

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