French intensify hostilities in war of words

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The Independent Online
RUGBY UNION : The verbal aggression between English and French rugby is set to continue all the way to a final showdown at Twickenham tomorrow after another French player jumped in tongue first yesterday and the England captain gave him a dusty r esponse.

When Pierre Berbizier, the coach of France, said rugby set an example for all sports when it was played with aggression but not violence, this was not quite what he meant. Will Carling, incredulous that the French should be keeping it up, would prefer tofocus on the liberation he feels after the renewal of his centre partnership with Jeremy Guscott.

Fat chance. Olivier Brouzet, the 6ft 8in lock reintroduced after the dropping of Olivier Merle on disciplinary grounds, said in Paris yesterday that he feared his third game for France would turn into a brawl. "There are many things I don't like in English rugby, starting with their aggressive style based on rucking," he complained. "I do not know if they will provoke us or if they will play rugby. It will be physically tough but we will not bow."

England teams during their recent successful years have been blamed for many things but never for the efficacy of their rucking. Brouzet was on France's tour of New Zealand last summer and on the basis of yesterday's remarks cannot have liked it much there, where they really do know how to ruck, either.

Carling and Martin Bayfield, having recovered from colds, took a full part in yesterday's England session at sun-kissed Roehampton, the captain feeling so well that he immediately took himself off for a photo shoot at the Savoy before another traditionalpre-match chore, meeting the media.

After leading England to seven successive victories over France, Carling knows how the French can self-destruct, and that their posturing indicates they might do so once more. "Maybe they are building themselves up to get in a state," he said. "They havea mental hang-up about us but we don't have one about them.

"I'll be keen for their confidence to evaporate again. More than 50 per cent of it is in the mind. I don't know if we're mentally tough, but maybe we stay focused."

Yesterday Brouzet was the latest Frenchman to bang on about the London papers. But like his predecessors over the past fortnight he had clearly not read - or had translated - a single line, since no one who had actually seen the offending journals could have complained. Evidently, it really is in the mind.

"The British press was severe with us," Brouzet said. "I hope it will not influence the refereeing. But as far as we are concerned, we must concentrate on the game." In which case he may be interested to know that the New Zealand Rugby Union asked that tomorrow's referee, Ken McCartney of Scotland, be kept away after his handling of the All Blacks' 1991 Test against Australia in Auckland.

Gavin Hastings was yesterday passed fit to win his 53rd cap against Ireland at Murrayfield tomorrow, thereby beating the Scotland record held jointly by Colin Deans and Jim Renwick. The full-back had missed last Sunday's training with a recurrence of a back injury.

Two injured forwards, Peter Wright (calf strain) and Stewart Campbell (thigh cramp), also came through yesterday's session but Shade Munro withdrew after tearing an abdominal muscle and was replaced by Doddie Weir.

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