MARCOUSSIS, France, March 19 – France playing England at rugby is more than just a rugby match claimed French coach Marc Lievremont on Thursday, and no more so than when the Six Nations Grand Slam is at stake.The 41-year-old is just one win away from landing France their first Grand Slam since 2004 with the icing on the cake being that they can clinch it like the last time with victory over their arch-foes England at Stade de France.
Lievremont, who has taken a fair amount of criticism since replacing Bernard Laporte following the 2007 World Cup, said that he had not really been born into a family – he was born in Senegal where his army officer father was stationed – imbued in rugby culture.
"I didn’t grow up in a rugby culture, as my parents were from the east of France, even if afterwards they moved to the Catalan region of France (a hotbed of rugby fervour)," said Lievremont, who nevertheless along with his six younger borthers and even sister all played competitive rugby.
"I came across rugby through the 1977 generation (the second Grand Slam winning side for France) and the generation of Serge Blanco and Pierre Berbizier.
"Evidently since then from between 20-30 years, since my rugby awakening, it has for me been all about France playing England in rugby, even if the All Blacks remain my favourite team.
"But a France v England match is perhaps even more than just about the sport. These are matches where so much is always at stake, and on Saturday even more so," added the former backrow forward, who was a member of the team that lost to Australia in the 1999 World Cup final.
Lievremont, who cut his coaching teeth with the France Under-21 side and then club outfit Dax guiding them back to the Top 14 before replacing Laporte, said that he had only played the English once but it had been a pleasant experience.
"I only played the English once (in 1998 when the French also won the Grand Slam) and I won, as a player in any case," said Lievremont, who has lost twice to the English as coach.
"But I remember also being a little annoyed, like a lot of French, to so often being frustrated by the England team – it was my adolescent imagination – who didn’t play good rugby, who cheated, and who always got the decisions going their way from the referee," joked Lievremont.
However, Lievremont said that there was one generation of England players he was very fond of.
"We had a good laugh at the 1980’s generation to see them moving slowly out to defend and to be caught cold each time as we sidestepped them.
"That was a great pleasure to watch."