The Gall of these (cultured) Gauls

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Except for an hour-long stopover in Auckland en route to Disneyland many years ago, I’ve never visited New Zealand.

But I have been to France twice. And I know I will go there again before I ever venture to the land of our ANZAC brothers.

Love does these things to you.

I also knew before kick off last Sunday that I would not be supporting our black-robed neighbours. When Les Bleus (or, for this match at least, Les Blancs) began the advance on their dancing warrior opponents I knew I had made the right choice.

The manoeuvre expressed perfectly the feisty, complex and unpredictable nature of the Gaul.

Their V formation could have represented many things. An arrow (it would have been too difficult to mimic the arsenal of their great armies: the musket and cannon), the head of a spear – threatening the throat-slitting Maoris with their own weapon, or theflanking manoeuvre used by Napoleon to decimate the Russians and Austrians at Austerlitz.

Perhaps it was just a flock of Strasbourg geese.

Was the holding of hands in long white socks a homoerotic gesture designed to unnerve the New Zealanders in their macho posturing? Could the dressing in the all-white of England have been a ploy to taunt the indigenous players with a re-creation of the colonial invasion of their land?

“France, misunderstood, incomprehensible, were magnificent!” trumpeted The Guardian.

The modern phrase “surrender monkeys” coined by Homer Simpson is used now to describe the French for their meek capitulation to the Germans in 1940, but they had the self-sacrificing men and women of the Resistance, as ruthless in their pursuit of liberty as the Nazis were in propagating their version of genocidal fascism.

Of course, their ruthlessness in pursuing liberty also found them running around during the Reign of Terror with the heads of royalists on sticks.

The great Marcel Proust didn’t let debilitating asthma prevent him from fulfilling his literary aspirations. Forced to sleep during the day because of the dust he wrote his masterpiece in bed at night.

And he did it in true Gallic style, ordering takeout from the Ritz.

Its modern incarnation resides in the ruck – as Wallaby John Eales’ right eye in 1999 and All Black Wayne Shelford’s scrotum in 1986 found out.

With the Frenchies deserved reputation as both gourmets ( delicate refined palates) and gourmands (truffling pigs that eat anything that moves – or swings) it was a wonder Shelford’s shelled testicle wasn’t sampled before being sewn back into its leathery pouch

As a player, if I was asked to choose between the mighty Canterbury Crusaders (‘gateway to the Antarctic’, lettuce & tomato sandwiches, stubbies of Canterbury Lager) and the lowly Bordeaux-Bègles (gateway to the Bay of Biscay, lamb with truffles, $1000 bottles of Mouton Rothschild), I know where I’d be going – south-west France thank you very much.

As with cycling, rugby doesn’t hold much interest for the skinny artistic Parisians.

It’s largely a game of the South played by the burly sons of peasants force-fed, like foie gras geese, with their mother’s provincial fare that leaves no part of a slaughtered animal uneaten.

With a cuisine swimming in fat and cholesterol (thanks to the addition of endless “nurbs” of butter) and breakfasts comprising a couple of Gitanes and a short black, the French shouldn’t succeed in any sport really.

Les Bleus shouldn’t have reached the final.

They have warring factions within the team, and the coach and players don’t respect each other: the former telling the latter they were “a bunch of spoiled brats, undisciplined, disobedient, sometimes selfish, always complaining, always whingeing”.

Hey, I thought the French would take that as a compliment.

They did go out drinking after beating Wales but it was Veuve Cliquot, not any old plonk. OK, lock Pascal Pape did spit at photographers outside Pastis, Auckland’s renowned French restaurant, but his lambs brains had been overcooked.

The paltry scores in the playoffs were proof of the importance of great defence and mental strength in the World Cup which the French have in spades. Their present mood isn’t conducive to attacking flair.

Captain Thierry Dusautoir after the semi final win against Wales and in front of a booing Eden Park crowd admitted: We were mentally strong and it is not always skills and combinations that win games. A lot of it is mental, maybe we needed more skills.

Today we won this match because of our defence. We didn’t play so much rugby but we played with our hearts”.

It mirrored his comments following the side’s tough win over Ireland in the Six Nations: “I would give my team five out of ten for management but ten for spirit.”

Heart, spirit, and bit of thuggery. Oh, and bit of decent technology too: a big computer residing in The National Centre of Rugby that replicates the scrummaging techniques of all their opponents.

They’re temperamental, precious, self obsessed and they whine a lot.

But they whine in the most beautiful language on earth. They pronounce ‘eaux’ as ‘o’. They made the Citroen DS and gave us the film Le Samourai.

They’re mad, these Frenchmen, and I love them for it. That would change very quickly, I’m sure, if I found myself in the ruck with them.

P.S. So Auckland has a decent French restaurant and Christchurch has a Belgian beer cafe. Perhaps I’ll arrange a stopover on my next trip to Paris.

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