The French collection: Five tales of classic confrontations for England in Paris Interviews by Paul Trow

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Bob Weighill

No8, 1948

France 15 England 0

T: M Pomathios

J Prat, R Soro

C: A-J Alvarez

DG: Y Bergouguan

THIS WAS the first game England played in Paris since the split in 1931 when we stopped the matches because of French foul play and professionalism. Four years earlier I played there for the RAF in a special game against Paris to mark the city's liberation from the occupation. The fixtures were staged at the Stade Colombes, which had lots of atmosphere even though it was nothing like as colourful as Parc des Princes, but things were still a bit gloomy as the war hadn't long ended. The game was played in April, later than usual, as it had been postponed because of bad weather. They wined and dined us lavishly throughout our stay. In those days we weren't conditioned to play overseas so we travelled there by train and boat - it took us quite a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend, apart from the result, that is. I captained England that day and played at No 8 but even though we had a good side, the French beat us handsomely, scoring three excellent tries. I suppose I have been to Paris 30 times since then, maybe more, and it's always a very exciting place to visit. I went there a lot during my time as secretary of the Rugby Football Union and was always well looked after.

Roger Uttley

Lock, 1974

France 12 England 12

T: J-P Romeu T: D Duckham

C: Romeu C: A Old

P: Romeu P: Old

DG: Romeu DG: G Evans

IT WAS the first time I had played in Paris and it was a remarkable experience. We probably should have won but the fly-half, Jean-Pierre Romeu, got a brilliant try late on with a sweeping move that ran the length of the pitch. We always stay in Versailles, and the coach journey into Paris on Saturday, complete with police escort, is amazing. It's a real white-knuckle ride with the traffic moving out of the way to let you through - like the Red Sea parting for Moses, and it certainly got the adrenalin flowing. Parc des Princes was rugby's first modern enclosed stadium and it really hit you when you went through those thick plate-glass doors and out on to the pitch. Everything seemed larger than life - the grass was so much shorter than over here, the balls bounced higher and flew further, most of our opponents came from the south of France and looked like bronzed gods. Of course, they were in effect professionals and we were the poor relations. The title was usually decided between them and Wales - it was always a big step up for us to play them. I regret not learning to speak better French because it would have enabled me to form closer friendships with the guys I played against.

Richard Hill

Scrum-half, 1991

MY former England team-mate Mickey Skinner squaring up to Eric Champ, his opposite number in the French back row, is one of the abiding images of the 1991 World Cup. It was a quarter-final against a very powerful French side and the start of the game, certainly, was quite hostile.

The incident stemmed from another a few minutes earlier involving Serge Blanco. Rob Andrew had put up a superb high kick and just as Blanco caught it the whole England pack went over the top of him which he didn't like. When Blanco was probably still sore, he had to catch another high ball and Nigel Heslop,

France 10 England 19

T: J-B Lafond T: R Underwood,

W Carling

C: J Webb

P: T Lacroix (2) P: Webb (3)

following up, tackled him pretty hard. Blanco lashed out at Heslop and a moment later Champ joined in. Mickey got there and then they had their head-to-head.

It was probably the most electrifying atmosphere I have ever played in. There was massive English support which really helped us - there always seems to be a bigger English turn-out at Parc des Princes, which is perhaps why we have a good record there. We were up against a big set of French forwards, so we knew we had to beat them up front. Against France you must win 60 per cent of the possession because their backs can be so dangerous. In the end their indiscipline let them down.

The game went well for me, but we played to a set pattern and I had a key role with the kicks I put up for our forwards to run on to. One about two minutes before the end led to Will Carling scoring our second try. At the time we were only leading 13-10, so that sealed it for us. It was fantastic.

Steve Smith

Scrum-half, 1982

France 15 England 27

T: L Pardo T: C Woodward,

J Carleton C: M Sallefranque C: W Hare (2)

P: Sallefranque (2) P: Hare (5)

DG: J-P Lescarboura

PARC DES PRINCES is very enclosed - it's a strange experience if you're not used to it. The new caps on Saturday will get the fright of their lives when they run out on to the pitch because a wall of noise hits you. We stayed in Versailles in an annexe of the Palace which was paradise. I played four games in Paris, and had a good record there - two wins, one draw and one stuffing. Two years earlier we became the first Europeans to win at Parc des Princes. It's a soccer stadium really, so they keep the grass very short which is conducive to running rugby. 1982 was an odd year: Billy Beaumont had just retired because of concussion and I took over the captaincy. There were a lot of changes from the 1980 Grand Slam team, but despite the disruptions we played really well. The match is also remembered for the infamous "aftershave" incident. When you go to the after-match dinner, the French give you goodies and that night we all got a bottle of aftershave. Maurice Colclough emptied his bottle, filled it with wine and drank it. Colin Smart, thinking Maurice had drunk his aftershave, downed his bottle in one gulp and spent the rest of the night in hospital. He was OK the next day - he felt terrible but he smelt lovely.

Jeff Probyn

Prop, 1988

France 10 England 9

T: L Rodriguez

P: Berot (2) P: J Webb (2)

DG: L Cusworth

I MADE my England debut that day along with two other "new boys" - Mickey Skinner and Will Carling. It was also Geoff Cooke's first game as manager. The World Cup the previous summer had been a debacle for England whereas the French had done well and got to the final, so we weren't given much of a chance. They were expected to hammer us, but we went into the game believing we could win. As things turned out we should have won. It was only an error by Mike Harrison, the captain, which let in Laurent Rodriguez, their No 8, for the decisive try. Paris is the only place where the two teams line up opposite each other before coming out on to the field, so I had a good close look at my opposite number, the loose-head prop Pascal Ondarts, who I now know very well. Just as we ran out, my fellow prop Paul Rendall said: "Don't worry about the 60,000 crowd, just think of the 20 million watching on telly back home." One memory which stands out came early in the game when I heard this "bosh" noise. I looked round to see that Skinner had stopped Rodriguez in his tracks with a heavy tackle. That lifted our spirits, and Mick said to me "Do you think he felt that?" "No doubt", I said. Mick grinned: "I sure hope so because I thought I'd broken my shoulder."