‘Le Crunch’: Six of the best matches

Date published: February 3 2017

Ahead of Le Crunch on Saturday, we look at some of the most exciting matches in the history of England versus France.

March 16, 1991

England 21-19 France

The ‘90s yielded some enthralling matches between England and their friends across the channel, as both sides dominated what was then Five Nations rugby.

On this occasion, England won their first Grand Slam in 11 years, having narrowly missed out in 1989 and 1990.

This French side will forever be known for its legendary backline that included the embodiment of French flair; Serge Blanco.

Despite Blanco launching a counterattack from behind his own line which saw Philippe Saint-André score the greatest try in Twickenham history (according to a vote in 2015), France’s dominant reign of the 1980s was ended.

That try alone makes this a Crunch par excellence, but Saint-André does not remember it so fondly. He told the England Rugby website: “England won the game and the Grand Slam that is what I remember most. The disappointment.”

February 15, 1992
Parc des Princes

France 13- 31 England

Perhaps not one of the best but certainly one of the most dramatic matches between the two nations.

The winner would claim the Five Nations title, but headlines were about much more than England winning the competition for the second year in a row.

Bad blood had been boiling up between the teams for over a year- Brian Moore predicted the game would be a ‘boxing match’ and France’s captain Philippe Sella pinned these words up in France’s dressing room to spur on his side.

On the day, French forwards Grégoire Lascubé and Vincent Moscato were both sent off. The first for stamping on Martin Bayfield’s head and the second for headbutting Jeff Probyn twice. It was the first time two players had been sent off in a Five Nations match, meaning referee Stephen Hilditch had to be accompanied off the pitch by a police escort.

March 1, 1997

England 20-23 France

England dominated for most of this one and were leading 20-6 at the 60-minute mark, but a dramatic late penalty gave France their first win at Twickenham for ten years.

The home side may have been thrown off by their coach Jack Rowell announcing before the match, to the surprise of players and the RFU, that he would quit after the tournament.

Perhaps more surprising still was a break that allowed flanker Lawrence Dallaglio to cover 40 metres at an unexpected pace before crossing the try-line. Dallaglio later commented: “All that Sevens training was bound to pay off sooner or later.”

Following their victory, France went on to win their first Grand Slam in ten years.

February 15, 2003

England 25-17 France

Not England’s most celebrated game in 2003, of course, but a good one all the same. They were looking for their first Grand Slam since 1995 as Jason Leonard celebrated his 100th cap.

In this match, two legends of the game did what they do best. First, Jason Robinson used his famously fast feet to find a huge gap in the French defence, taking England ahead in the second half.

Then, Sébastien Chabal plowed into the English line, taking at least five defenders down with him and creating the overlap that allowed his team to go over in the corner.

Les Bleus scored once more with minutes left on the clock, or so they thought. In actual fact, the game continued for an extra 12 minutes as France inched closer to the try-line.

A chorus of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot was enough to bolster the English defence as the final whistle blew to signal their first win of five in that year’s tournament.

March 11, 2012
Stade de France

France 22-24 England

This was a game of defence-defying clean breaks from the men in white. Manu Tuilagi showed his pace, running around the slower French defenders on the right wing to score the first try.

Then, Ben Morgan seemed to repel French tackles to get the ball to Ben Foden for the second. Finally, Tom Croft snuck through the French defence and scored five more points- quite a feat for a man who is almost two metres tall.

If all those tries weren’t thrilling enough for the game to go down in history, the match ended with a 79th-minute drop goal attempt from François Trinh-Duc- unsuccessful on this occasion.

March 21, 2015

England 55-35 France

An intense end to a beautiful Six Nations final weekend. Wales, England and Ireland were all in with a chance of taking the title and, after Ireland hammered Scotland 40-10, England needed to beat France by 26 points to take home the trophy.

A thrilling match ensued with 12 tries and 90 points scored in total. Ben Youngs made several inspired clean breaks which led to tries, sadly for England so did Noa Nakaitaci.

In one particularly heart-wrenching moment, Nakaitaci just managed to touch the ball down before it went dead- a second later and England’s Six Nations fate might have been different.

Philippe Saint-André looked on as his side became only the second team in the history of the competition to score more than 30 points and lose.

by Becky Grey