Who would have thought it? A French grandson of a Georgian refugee showing England how to win a rugby match - and with a barrage of penalties, to boot.
Who would have thought it? A French grandson of a Georgian refugee showing England how to win a rugby match - and with a barrage of penalties, to boot. While Twickenham's Barbour set fret, and much of the rest of Europe cries out for some overdue French flair in this Six Nations' Championship, the man who kicked the world champions to death says simply: "We don't care about what people think. Winning is the most important thing to us."
Dimitri Yachvili had done it to England before, with 19 points in France's Grand Slam-clinching win in Paris last March. The scrum-half went one worse last Sunday, as it were, in terms of points and not scoring a try, but certainly one better in the eyes of the French team, by repeating the treatment in the Red Rose's back garden. With six penalties from eight attempts, Yachvili did better than Charlie Hodgson and Olly Barkley put together and ensured England, so often winners under Sir Clive Woodward when outscored on tries, were the biter bit.
"We were very happy in the changing room, singing and shouting," said Yachvili. "The French know how hard it is to win at Twickenham. We had not done it against England since 1997. I thought the final kick had missed the posts, but the wind took it in at the last moment. It was a good feeling."
The no-nonsense kicking style of the left-footed Yachvili, who "learned a lot" when he spent the 2001-02 season in the Zurich Premiership with Gloucester, owes something to his four years playing football as a kid in Nice, not a rugby area. His grandfather, Charles, escaped to France during the Second World War after being captured from the Soviet Red Army and forced into service by the Germans. Dimitri's father, Michel, was a hooker in the French Grand Slam team of 1968, and his brother, Gregoire, represented Georgia at the 2003 World Cup.
The latest in the Yachvili line, the 11-week-old Lucas, was bouncing on Dimitri's knee back home in Biarritz as the hero from HQ expressed sympathy with Hodgson's white- post fever. "I know what it's like to miss kicks. Sometimes you have a bad day, we all do. You can have a few weeks when you don't kick well. It was better for France, but I was disappointed for Hodgson and Barkley. I know they'll do better next time. You have to train and be confident. The best thing is to train every day. I do 30 to 45 minutes, every day."
The absence of a French try, following the tortuous 16-9 win over Scotland a week earlier, was grist to the mill of the critics clamouring for explanations from Bernard Laporte. The France coach, in turn, has rounded on two carping former occupants of the post, Pierre Berbizier and Pierre Villepreux, essentially asking, "What did they ever win in the Championship?"
Laporte is chasing his third Grand Slam in five years. He has dropped the one-dimensional centre Brian Liebenberg in favour of the fit-again Yannick Jauzion. Perhaps the free-running Welsh will bring the best out of the French in Paris on Saturday? Yachvili is unwilling to make many promises.
"Yes, we have to improve our attack, but not at a cost to our defence. Wales have improved a lot since the last World Cup. They've raised their level and are up there with England and Ireland in Europe. We said at half-time against England that we were losing by 11 points without doing anything ourselves. We had made two mistakes in defence and let in two tries. We knew we had to play a bit, and put more pressure on. But we won because we defended well. For sure, we haven't attacked well in the first two matches [against Scotland and England]. But we won those two matches. We try to play as well as we can."
Laporte's selections are difficult to follow. Yachvili was on the bench behind Pierre Mignoni against Scotland, having been out of the mix completely during the experimental North American tour last summer and the autumn internationals against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. When he started alongside Yann Delaigue at Twickenham it was the 24th half-back hinge in 61 Tests since Laporte took charge in 2000 (a fact relayed, unabashed, by the official French Federation website).
"I don't care who I play with at No 10," said Yachvili, who has a Heineken Cup quarter-final with Biarritz in April to look forward to. "In the back row, I agree it would be easier for me to play with [club-mates] Serge Betsen and Imanol Harinordoquy. But, again, that is up to the coach.
"Laporte is building a team. He is trying a few players to find a good combination. We all want to keep our places, but it's his choice. He shouts a lot in training. He wants us to be the best, to be proud of us. It's good to be shouted at. We are not like the English, it's a different culture. To work hard we need to be talking hard. We have to be motivated and we have to keep working."Reuse content