Belfast Telegraph

England pipped in Le Crunch

By Billy Weir

With the tiresome hindrance that was Wales v Italy brushed out of the way, the Six Nations rugby could get under way on Saturday tea-time, as England travelled to Paris for Le Crunch.

Personally, if I want an apple I just nip down to the greengrocers but what was to follow for the BBC promised to be golden but wasn't delicious as the French, renowned for their never-say-die appetite for a battle right to the end, sent the Smiths, granny and all, back across the Channel to think again.

This wasn't hugely unexpected, but one thing we could guarantee right from the off that there would be no hype or long-winded and convoluted opening to the programme.

First up was some hype and a convoluted opening with England coach Stuart Lancaster standing in a field as off camera a hyper-active child went up and down the channels on an imaginary wireless before finally finding commentator Eddie Butler who said 'welcome to the madness.'

This continued onto the panel as we cut to Jeremy Guscott and Thomas Castaignade duelling with baguettes, Sir Clive Woodward sitting beside two saucy maids armed only with a stick of celery and a flying helmet, while John Inverdale promised to say things only once. Adrian Chiles take note.

But as thoughts of Brian Moore and a guillotine danced about in our heads, Butler urged caution over the pre-match niceties as it was 'time for some bite, it's time for Le Crunch' and Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love boomed out.

There was more 70s music in the offing with a cunning subliminal Inverdale message as he asked for 'a penny for Stuart Lancaster's thoughts' but Rod Stewart was nowhere to be seen.

"France against England is always special, but as an opening salvo to this year's Championship it has added bite," he said as we wondered just how many more references could be made to apples and was there one in the fruit bowl as you've put the notion in me.

"As Philippe Saint-Andre said this week, we don't start with the starter, we start with the main course," he continued, but thankfully no more talk of crunching apples.

"Well, the French persist in calling this 'Le Crunch', even to the point that our taxi driver wished us 'bon crunch' as we got out of his cab," Inverdale said, leaving us wondering just when Del Garcon had started cabbying.

Finally Inverdale and his panel appeared, standing behind a counter that appeared to be selling rudimentary daubings of rugby scenes and they seemed to be attracting a good crowd as hordes of curious French men ambled behind them wondering why these strange artists were in the stand.

Anyway enough of this talk, let's concentrate on the game. Or not.

"I expect for the casual rugby fan (I always wear beige Farahs and a pair of brown slip-ons to watch, do I qualify?), there are some very unfamiliar names (what, no Bill Beaumont?). That man there has only eight caps to his name, but what a name, Billy Twelvetrees and Jeremy bought him a coffee (no apple?)," said Inverdale.

There was more to come, the caption for Jack Nowell telling us that he is 'the son of a trawlerman from Penzance' and Jonny May, the offspring of a 'bushy-haired guitar player and a woman called Maggie who keeps being awoken by a strange blonde Scotsman with an English accent'.

Finally time for the match, all the Englishmen, surprisingly, tipped England to win and the Frenchman didn't, and the English confidence looked well-placed as the home side scored the opening try after 32 seconds.

This meant that the first words that Moore got to utter were priceless ones 'the worst possible start for England' but things were to improve.

Owen Farrell got them on the board with a penalty, despite being born with a terrible tilting head affliction that makes him look like a terrier listening to air being expelled in slow, screeching fashion from a balloon every time he lines up a kick.

At the break, England trailed 16-8 or 'only a score and a bit' behind and 'England are well on top' suggested Inverdale with an alarming rose-tinted view of proceedings. Into the second period and the actions of referee Nigel Owens in dismissing the complaints of moaning players had classical man Moore salivating.

"He could well have said the quote from Coriolanus that more of your conversation will infect my brains, so be quiet," he said as we all nodded on the sofa, wondering was he some new Italian player we hadn't heard of.

Fittingly there was a tragic end for England, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as a man called Fickou dived in for France right at the death to leave the house of Lancaster in ruins and only a bit of a score in arrears.

"In a funny sort of way, do you think England take more from that," mused Inverdale, but then the button that waits for no man, the red one, intervened leaving the final words with Castaignede, quoting from Coriolanus, when he said 'allez Les Bleus.'

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