Rivalry weekend: Rugby's Le Crunch - England v France
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 07/03/18 2:14pm
It's Rivalry Weekend on Sky Sports! And with England set to face France in Paris on Saturday, we take a closer look at some of their most ferocious encounters throughout the decades…and there have been a few!
While the bite between the pair may have dwindled in recent years - largely owing to the fact that France have failed to challenge for major honours - this fixture has a phenomenal history.
Le Crunch, as it has come to be known, has taken place 103 times since 1906, with England victorious on 57 occasions and France 39, with seven draws.
In France, things have been a lot tighter. Out of 51 games between the two across the Channel, France have won 26, while England have been victorious 23 times.
And, when you take into account that an inexperienced France team failed to win their first 16 matches against England from 1906 through to 1926, the two nations have been neck-and-neck over the last 90 years or so.
Traditionally, the two clashed with ultra-contrasting styles of play. And this fed their rivalry.
Historically, France were silky and abundant with flair in attacking rugby, while England were an intensely physical group who sought about battering their opponents into submission.
As such, meetings very often took on a repetitive and eventually familiar narrative.
France would start with great energy and excitement, before England got stuck in. The likes of former hooker Brian Moore developed an acute knack for getting under French skin, turning the men in blue into a violent bunch, dead set on retribution.
Consequently, France would often be driven away from their stylish game plan to a more brutish form of the game against England. Indeed, they often boxed themselves out before they'd even started.
Three successive encounters in the early 90's proved some of the most edgy and memorable encounters...
Five Nations 1991 - March 16 1991, Twickenham.
Tensions had been building before this meeting, with France having gained the upper hand over England during the 80's, winning six and drawing once.
The 1990 Five Nations had seen a swing, however, as England went to Paris and smashed France 26-7. Ahead of welcoming Les Blues to Twickenham a year later, a Grand Slam was on the line for Geoff Cooke's side.
The likes of Moore, Jeff Probyn, Mick Skinner and Wade Dooley set about a form of mental torment at scrum, ruck and maul time, and the French lapped it up, throwing punch after punch. Heads had gone.
The game is mostly remembered for Philippe Saint-Andre's remarkable try from coast to coast, but the winning of it for England was in France's red mist in the face of white shirts.
France scored three tries to England's one, but the penalties did for them, handing England a dramatic 21-19 victory, and a first Grand Slam for 11 years.
Rugby World Cup quarter-final - October 19 1991, Parc des Princes, Paris
Seven months later and the two met again as England travelled to Paris for their 1991 World Cup knockout tie, with tensions still high between the two and no amount of hostility having dissipated.
The story goes that Moore went bananas in the tunnel beforehand, roaring, screaming, setting the tone.
Early in the game, England fly-half Rob Andrew sent a grubber kick into the French 22 and when France's superb full-back Serge Blanco dealt with it, he was hit late by Andrew and then a couple of England forwards.
Blanco was so riled, he batted away referee David Bishop's hand as the official attempted to hold the Frenchman back.
Not a minute later, England wing Nigel Heslop sent up a high kick which Blanco claimed and called a mark for. Needless to say, Heslop still hit him and the reaction was extreme. Three to four France players reigned punches on the winger's head, Blanco and flanker Eric Champ chief among them, dropping Heslop to floor.
Will Carling and the England pack proceeded to repeat the tactic of hitting Blanco late, and the French moved from frustration, to incandescence, to all-out vengeance.
This was also the game where England No 8 Skinner produced one of the biggest tackles the sport has ever seen on opposite number Marc Cecillon, five metres from his own tryline and with the scores level at 10-10.
Players from both sides have often remarked it was the most physical encounter of their careers. And that there was genuine hate between the two packs.
French indiscipline once more saw England grind out a victory - 19-10 on this occasion. France head coach Daniel Dubroca was so incensed afterwards, he grabbed Kiwi referee Bishop and pinned him against a wall in the tunnel area. Drama of the highest order.
Five Nations 1992 - 15 February 1992, Parc des Princes, Paris
While that game in 1991 might be the one most recalled in terms of brutality, the meeting of the sides four months later in the same stadium was arguably worse in terms of sheer savagery.
Effectively a Five Nations title clash, both camps vowed pre-match the game would not descend into violence. Moore did not toe the party line, however, and described the Parc des Princes as a venue where violence was 'inevitable'.
France skipper Philippe Sella is said to have pinned such comments onto the dressing room wall.
In the second half, flanker Olivier Roumat knocked England lock Wade Dooley unconscious with a punch. Such was the ire and want for physical ferocity between the two sets of players, Dooley pleaded with Irish referee Stephen Hilditch not to send Roumat off once he came round. Reprisal was sought on a near-vigilante basis.
When Gregoire Lascube stamped on England lock Martin Bayfield's head though, it could not be ignored and he was red carded. After that, the game became more of a free-for-all than it had been, if at all possible.
Hooker Vincent Moscato, who was also a professional boxer away from the rugby pitch, later headbutted Probyn before a scrum, and duly received a warning.
A wink and a smile from the English prop soon sent the Frenchman boiling over the edge, as he drove his head into Probyn once more, literally crying with frustration. He, like Lascube, was sent off - the first occasion in the Championship's entire history where two men had been sent off in one game.
In the final quarter, flanker Jean-François Tordo dropped knees and fists on heads, prop Philippe Gimbert gouged eyes and threw punches. Somehow, France still ended with 13 men on the pitch.
Both Lascube and Moscato were handed 28-week suspensions in the aftermath, while the duo, along with Gimbert, never played for France again.
World Cup histories
In addition to an intense history of rivalry in the Five/Six Nations, England and France also have a rich history on the highest stage of the sport.
From eight instalments of the Rugby World Cup since 1987, the two have met on five occasions, handing each other out the most potent of disappointments.
England knocked France out in the aforementioned 1991 quarter-final, and semi-finals in both 2003 and 2007, while France dumped England out in a 2011 quarter-final, and were victorious over their great rivals in a third-place play-off in 1995.
Both have been drawn into the same pool for the 2019 World Cup as well.
Though the rivalry may not be all that it once was in terms of near skulduggery or ferociousness, this clash is still the one France most want to win each and every year, memories from previous contests will never be forgotten.
Saturday is sure to prove another highly emotional Parisian occasion.
To mark Rivalry Weekend on Sky Sports we're looking at some of sport's greatest rivalries!