France's Grand Slam game
France's hopes of causing an upset and beating old foes England in their Six Nations clash at Twickenham on Saturday, thereby easing fears of a first wooden spoon since 1957, are not borne out by the statistics.
For the French - who have lost their first two games, away in Italy and at home to Wales - have recorded just 10 wins in 41 trips to Twickenham, with five draws.
They have managed just three wins there since a 9-9 draw in 1985.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has called the match his side's 'Grand Slam game' but if they are to indeed overcome the odds, and in the process ruin unbeaten England's hopes of the Grand Slam, then viewing these three matches may help in that process.
FEBRUARY 21 1987
FRANCE 19 ENGLAND 15
"There was aggression, animosity... and several low blows," recalled legendary French centre Philippe Sella in a match that he would mark with a try of sheer genius. England, who had not beaten France since 1982, looked to be on course to do so when they led 12-3 at half-time in an era when a try was still just four points. But the wonderful French backline, including Franck Mesnel, Denis Charvet, Sella and Serge Blanco, started eating into the hosts' lead. A Blanco drop goal and then a stunning try by Erik Bonneval, at the end of a move involving Mesnel and Eric Champ, allowed them to draw level. The final nail in the hosts' coffin was delivered by the incomparable Sella, who intercepted a pass from scrum-half Richard Hill to Rob Andrew and ran it back 70 metres, the icing on the cake being a delightful jink of his hips which saw him change direction and fool Mike Harrison and Marcus Rose. "It's a dream! It's a dream!" Sella screamed at Bonneval. The dream was to continue the whole way to the then-Five Nations Grand Slam.
MARCH 1 1997
FRANCE 23 ENGLAND 20
FRANCE'S COMEBACK KIDS WIN THE DAY
France's joint head coaches, Pierre Villepreux and legendary former player Jean-Claude Skrela, swept out a load of players and blooded a new generation, many of whom would go on to play in the 1999 World Cup final defeat to Australia. The side at Twickenham featured such raw talents as Olivier Magne, Christophe Lamaison, Christian Califano, Fabien Pelous and Raphael Ibanez, mixed with the oldies like skipper Abdelatif Benazzi and man-mountain lock Olivier Merle.
The mix did not come together like a good mayonnaise in the first half though. Instead, it curdled as England went in at the break 14-6 to the good. "We had been non-existent in the first-half, we hadn't put three successive passes together," recalled a smiling Califano. Things didn't get much better in the early stages of the second half either, as the talismanic Benazzi had to go off injured on the hour mark with the English now leading 20-6. However, the bizarre tipping point in favour of the French came when hooker Marc de Rougemont came on to take his place in the... back row. He sparked such a revival that the French scored two tries in eight minutes through Laurent Leflamand, in the 62nd minute, and then the inspirational Lamaison eight minutes later. He would finish the match with 18 points. Having already beaten Ireland 32-15, the way was clear for the largely young guns to blast their way to France's fifth Grand Slam.
FEBRUARY 14 2005
FRANCE 18 ENGLAND 17
YACHVILI PUTS ENGLAND TO THE SWORD AGAIN
Dimitri Yachvili may have played one season at Gloucester but it didn't make him like the English any better, as certain comments he has made since make it clear. However, he was also effective at putting this feeling across where it mattered....on the pitch. Twice he proved the difference between the two sides, having scored 19 points in 2004's 24-21 victory he was their torturer again in 2005 at Twickenham. Once again, as in the two previous Twickenham French wins, they had to come from behind, this time trailing 17-6 at the break. However, 12 unanswered points from Yachvili's boot in the second half saw them squeeze out an unlikely victory. "I remember that Charlie Hodgson had done nothing with his boot all match and that 'Yach' kicked everything," recalled flanker Yannick Nyanga, one of three survivors, along with Nicolas Mas and Frederic Michalak, from the team that day who could face England this Saturday. "We held together in defence. It was not a hold-up. It is that match that should serve as our inspiration. To beat the English at their home, is beautiful, very very beautiful."