James Lawton: When it comes to England against France, Tuilagi may provide a timely reminder of The Tackle
You do not have to be an impact junkie to be drawn to this battle of Tuilagi and Bastareaud
The earth may not move in the Twickenham dusk when Manu Tuilagi and Mathieu Bastareaud first collide today but enthusiasts of the most vigorous body contact are excused if they have already consulted the odds.
At the very least it is reasonable to believe there is a chance that the most brutal tackle in the history of England versus France is likely to be challenged, if not surpassed.
There are other reasons to celebrate the prospect of England driving forward in another vital stage of their pursuit of the Six Nations title and further confirmation that they are indeed shaping up as a splendid example of how, if the spirit and the thinking and the organisation are right, a national team can transform itself from a world-wide laughing stock to a serious force in the course of barely a year.
However, you do not have to be an impact junkie to be drawn to this battle of Tuilagi and Bastareaud and, inevitably, to wonder if it will hit the extraordinary level of intensity reached by Mick "the Munch" Skinner and Marc Cécillon, the Quiet Man of French rugby, at the Parc des Princes on a day as crisp as a good Burgundy in the autumn of 1991.
Will Carling's team, like Chris Robshaw's today, were high on potential rather than solid achievement at the time, but they showed that they had a serious appetite for glory in the 19-10 quarter-final win, one that might have stretched to their first World Cup triumph had they not abandoned their power game in the Twickenham final against David Campese's Australia. Carling got under a high kick and had various French players attached to him as he plunged over for a vital try. But then everyone agreed that nothing counted more than The Tackle.
For hooker Brian Moore, who made fighting the French the supreme mission of the prime of his life, it still thunders down the years. It speaks to him of a physical statement which permitted no adequate response. It was as elemental as a fall of rock, as decisive as a knock-out punch delivered with quite perfect timing.
Even today he remembers it with awe, as an aficionado of the corrida might recall one of those exquisite Veronicas which leaves the bull both stationary and befuddled.
At the time, Moore said: "I was in the middle of the scrum. I felt the push come on, then go off as Cécillon picked the ball up. I didn't see the initial contact. All I saw from the left of my vision was Cécillon come hurtling back in front of me and the whole of the English pack ran over the top of both of them. France scored shortly afterwards but the tackle turned the game in the sense it was such an unreconstructed, Neanderthal rugby player's hit and drive.
"When you do that to the opposition they know they have been beaten physically and you know you have beaten them."
Such is the imperative facing Tuilagi in the midfield today as he seeks to justify his coach Stuart Lancaster's belief that the call was for his raw power rather than the thrilling pyrotechnics of the brilliantly emerging Billy Twelvetrees. Lancaster has also invested in the strength of a re-positioned Courtney Lawes in the back row. Increasingly the coach displays the authority of a man who believes that good use has been made of the time he has been granted by an enlightened English game.
Much praise has been accumulating around the accord reached by the Rugby Union and a Premiership which not so long ago was not much more responsive to the needs of the national team than its football counterpart. Now the difference between the codes is a matter of day and night.
Not only is Lancaster free of the imperious demands of club managers which so bedevil the life of Roy Hodgson, as it did generations of his predecessors, he has the encouragement of a system which not only gives him significant preparation time with his charges but also the certainty that outstanding young native players will get a chance of meaningful development with their clubs. It is the polar opposite of the football situation and much credit is being given to the political skills of Rob Andrew, who was so heavily criticised for his Teflon-man escapology techniques during the meltdown of Martin Johnson's England.
It is a triumph for vision and practicality which must haunt Hodgson, who was recently forced to admit that on the road to next year's World Cup finals in Brazil he would almost certainly have to pick players who were far from guaranteed a regular place in their club sides. The consequences could hardly be more apparent. While Lancaster is awash with options – in the absence of the prodigious Owen Farrell the precocious and inventive Freddie Burns would almost certainly be striding out against the French today – Hodgson can point only to one world-class young player who is at the heart of his club's ambitions. Jack Wilshere is football's Owen Farrell but in the recent victory over Brazil he was not only the star but also pretty much the entire chorus line.
French rugby, for so long one of the riches of the world game and such a powerful contender in the last World Cup as they explored the final reaches of All Black nerve, is a lot closer to English football with skimpy preparation time and a frequently incoherent relationship with the club game.
Still, in today's extremity of two straight losses, no one can discount the residual effect of Gallic genius – or the power of the monstrous Bastareaud.
It means that the certainty of England's progress may well depend on the outcome of the Big Bang. For a little while at least, the Richter scale might just be as relevant as the scoreboard. The guess here, though, is that with the significant help of Farrell, Tuilagi is likely to ensure the right result, by something adjacent to seven points and, maybe, a little scorching of the earth.
The greatness of Barça has been overstated
If the argument that Barcelona were the greatest club team in the history of football hadn't been waged quite so stridently there might be less force in the reaction to their mauling by a brilliantly motivated young Milan team.
As it is, the critical backlash is only to be expected. It is not as though the Barça failure to generate any serious finishing power in San Siro was a unique catastrophe. It has been happening fairly routinely since the team containing just two members of the current side – Valdes and Puyol – won the first of three European titles in Paris in 2006.
In 2009 they beat Manchester United in Rome impressively enough but only after benefitting from the refereeing outrages of the semi-final at Stamford Bridge. Two years later they again beat Manchester United but it was a day when Sir Alex Ferguson was in anguish as only one of his players, Wayne Rooney, looked seriously fit for purpose.
In 2010 Jose Mourinho successfully parked his Internazionale bus at the Nou Camp and last spring it was Roberto Di Matteo's Chelsea. It is not the work of the greatest team we have seen and if anyone still doubts it they should spend a little time inspecting the record of Alfredo di Stefano's Real Madrid.
Final chapter in the Hanson romance
It is a game that may not have galvanised the nation but if you have the smallest streak of romance you are obliged to note the fate of James Hanson, former shelf-stacker and goal machine of Guiseley in the Conference North, when he competes with Michu of Swansea in the League Cup final at Wembley tomorrow.
The boxing promoter Don King would probably say that Hanson and Bradford City have two chances – Slim and None, and that Slim was known to have left town. However, there is no guarantee that Hanson would be listening. Some time ago, after all, he announced himself an extraordinary winner.
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