By Alan Dymock
IT WAS April 10, 1999. Foot and mouth hadn’t happened, the 6 Nations hadn’t happened and ‘Flat Beat’ by Mr. Oizo was number one in the charts. In this brave new world, anything was possible.
It was also the last time Scotland beat France in Paris.
That year, the last of the Five Nations, Scotland were the victors, their three wins enough to snatch the trophy from England. Of course, this will not happen again this year with England and Wales slugging it out for the title under a hot tin roof in Cardiff. However, there was something else that happened that year that Scotland can still play a part in. In 1999, France finished bottom of the championship.
There are a few parallels between the 2013 edition and the final instalment of the Five Nations. England fans would hope not, with the ghost of a Scott Gibbs run still haunting them. Nevertheless, that year there was a close call between France and the next lowliest side, Ireland, for the wooden spoon, with a points difference of one separating them. France took the dubious honour that year after succumbing to a 36-22 loss to the Scots at the Stade de France. They, like Ireland, only won one game that season.
As it stands this Championship, France are at the foot of the table and the next lowliest side, Italy, are above them by a point. So if Italy and France lose, France take the wooden spoon. Should Italy win, France would have to win in order to resign the Irish to picking up the pine shovel, with Declan Kidney’s side in fourth with three points. If Ireland and France win, Italy are losers once more.
Confused? All you need to know is that France are worried. So much so that human tree-pulper Thierry Dusautoir has been sent out to put a brave face on it by saying that losses bring “out the character in people and forges a unified squad, which can only prepare us for the victories that are to come.”
Yoann Huget has also dropped a line that could be immortalised, purely for its pointlessness: “The draw [against Ireland] was good for our morale.”
Yet Dusautoir gives us something to consider. He continued: “There is frustration at not having been able to validate all we have done in training these past few weeks on the pitch and having given the impression that we haven’t mastered the subject. However, I can assure you we have something left in the tank.”
That tank, as beautifully illustrated and expensively assembled as it is, has been slow moving this tournament. However, it is one capable of busting through anyone should things finally, for the love of Serge Blanco, click.
Scotland’s returning man from France, Alasdair Strokosch, also worries about the French. “They are a very proud nation with their rugby and they are really backed into a hole right now,” the Perpignan flanker told Press Association. “With them being at home, we are a team they will definitely not want to lose to, so they are going to come out firing.”
Maybe we would all like to see a firing France. Maybe seeing them flirt with ridiculousness makes you smile. Whatever the case, they have a job on to turn form on its head, winning a game and snatching victory from the wooden jaws of disaster.
There will be nothing flat about the beat of this last round of Championship rugby.