Eden Park is the setting for ‘Le Crunch’ quarter final on Saturday
England and France are the oldest of foes whether it be on the battlefield or on the rugby pitch and Eden Park on Saturday will witness the next chapter of what has always been a compelling rivalry.
Both teams have held the bragging rights over the past 20 years though England’s prowess in the Rugby World Cup against the French has to nudge them into the ascendency. In 2003, Johnny Wilkinson kicked England into the final of the tournament in rain-lashed conditions that his opposite number Frederic Michalak was unable to cope with, inspiring a 24-7 victory over their fellow northern hemisphere side on their route to immortality.
Four years later – on home soil – France saw their chance for revenge as again they met in the semi final of rugby’s greatest competition only for that man Wilkinson to spoil the party by nailing a drop goal and a penalty in the closing minutes to earn England a second successive appearance in the final.
Now they meet again, albeit in the last eight, and there has been much debate as to whether the Toulon fly half would feature for Martin Johnson’s side after a dip in form with the boot and the more dynamic option of Toby Flood having impressed from the bench. As it happens, an injury to Mike Tindall means that both will play on Saturday which must have heard groans echo throughout Marc Lievremont’s squad.
While England have hardly set New Zealand alight in the past few weeks, France are in an even worse state. Talks of mutiny in the camp and an establishment of cliques in the dressing room were doing the rounds both before and after last weekend’s humiliating loss to Tonga. However, the word ‘mercurial’ could have been invented to describe the French national rugby team and it would be no surprise to see their quintessential flair-ridden brand of rugby dazzle England in Auckland on the weekend.
Oh, and there’s usually a good scrap as well.