Six Nations melancholy for Les Bleus


Six Nations melancholy for Les Bleus

The French decline began with that one-point World Cup quarterfinal defeat by the Springboks, and it's become chronic, says LOUIS DE VILLIERS.



I plead guilty.

Old-timers of my ilk always romanticised the place; at least I was able to shake off my Hemingway fixation years ago. His stories frequently focused on American travellers in La Belle France, who, due to an extremely favourable dollar/franc exchange rate, were able to make a living by sending a column once a week by telegram to a daily newspaper in Des Moines. 

But even though it's pricey, it's still pretty irresistible.

Good food and cultural treasures, good wine and gentle people.

And what do I think about France struggling so much in the Six Nations rugby tournament?

I laugh my head off every other week.

I gloat intensely.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

The French don't even have a proper word for “gloating". Souffrance (suffering) is the best Google Translate can do. If you try the German schadenfreude, it immediately spits out the identical word.

It is quite possible that Latin Europe is just less nasty than Dutch Europe, or maybe the northern Europeans just diagnose better, but the struggle of the French team in this year's Six Nations brings me great joy, even though I usually cheered for France.

Not so much these days, and I suspect most readers will still remember why; the French more or less stole our right to host last year's World Cup.


Money has made the French the most solvent in international rugby, although of course that says less than one would hope — in Wales, Australia and England, clubs and regions have gone bankrupt and it is beginning to sound as if even New Zealand is speedily burning through the $NZ200 million investment by the Americans of Silver Lake. 

However, this knowledge made the French almost as arrogant on the rugby front as the Indians in cricket.


But while they stole our World Cup, the Springboks neatly turned the tables by stealing the spring from their step in the quarterfinals. That one-point difference, it now seems, has stolen Les Bleus' souls.

So far, there has been a sound thrashing by Ireland, a win over Scotland thanks to a glaring ref bugger-up and a draw against Italy, when they were also scandalously denied a win thanks to the whistleblowers.

These days, it seems as if they start suffering from shell shock as soon as they tie their bootlaces. Figuratively it is the case, of course: a 29-28 bombshell and as far as we are concerned, we'll always have Paris. In 2007 as well as 2023, moreover. Go for it, Humphrey:

Part of Les Bleus' problems is that Antoine Dupont, their brilliant, bad-tempered scrum half and complete rugby genius, has started preparing himself to try to win gold in the sevens during the Olympic Games later this year in the City of Lights.

He is sorely missed in the 15-man team.

Dupont started to play little by little in Vancouver and the French finally only bowed the knee in the final against the now-sparkling Argentinians.

With eight fewer players to stop him at the other end, his speed and explosiveness make him look like something from the future, with sevens generally being a half-baked format these days.

In Los Angeles, France thrashed “Great" Britain 21-0 in the final, with Monsieur Dupont pulling the strings and making the fur fly.

It was the first time in 19 years that France had won an international sevens tournament and the bookies have them as 4-1 favourites to win Olympic gold.


You can also bet on the Blitzboks, but at 14-1 I would strongly advise against that. Fourteen times zero remains zero.

You don't win sevens tournaments without luck but you also don't win them without anything else and Samoa, who at least tackle the taste from your mouth, seems like much better value for money at 25-1.

Time flies — just the other day the Blitzboks were our pride and joy and the Springboks our embarrassment. Now these roles are more or less reversed.

The Olympic format sucks in sevens, but that's the future.

Given that four members of the World Cup final team — Deon Fourie, Kwagga Smith, Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse — first performed  fruitfully in the faster format, I sincerely hope there is a plan to make the Blitzboks snap, crackle and pop again.

If sport makes you feel bad more often than good, there are a thousand other things you can spend your time on more pleasantly. And seeing the Blitzboks struggle through tournaments these days is at least more fun than an enema, but it's starting to become more and more annoying.

You are certainly not going to develop tomorrow's Kwaggas and Kurt-Lees from such a struggle.


Now, as much as I may love everything French, from Juliette Gréco to Guy de Maupassant, my Bonaparte fixation, confit de canard and Asterix, I hope with all my heart my gloating will become more intense on Sunday.

France have to go to Cardiff and the story of the once-famous rugby valleys gets sadder every year. France should win, otherwise Verlaine's “long sobs of violins of autumn" will properly echo in the offices of the French Rugby Federation.

The knives are out for Fabien Galthié, France's most successful coach in years. And that due to one single point. 

If Kolbe hadn't rushed Thomas Ramos' goal kick, they might have won 30-29. But he did and now they are experiencing a real crisis. After almost never losing for four years, their confidence is being eroded as regular as clockwork these days.


If Ireland beats the almost equally confused England at Twickenham tomorrow, their second consecutive Six Nations Grand Slam is getting very close to a comfortable procession. It will be the first time anyone has won two Grand Slams in a row since Italy joined the tournament, with fairly negligible consequences.

On the one hand, it says that this year has produced a pretty lacklustre European tournament and on the other hand that the Test series between the Boks and Ireland will be something we will remember for a long time. Come on, July, come on!


Speaking of July and Juliette Gréco, here's the latter:

Serge Gainsbourg's actor daughter Charlotte sings my favourite tune by her dad:

Feu! Chatterton was named after a long-deceased English poet, Thomas Chatterton, whose story is as heartbreaking as it is interesting, but at least this tune is lighthearted enough for a Friday afternoon if you're up to a bit of melancholy. As French rugby fans have to be these days. New world, indeed:

♦ VWB ♦

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