One is synonymous with flair and brilliance and unpredictability and the other is associated with dourness, under-achievement and monotonously regular Quarter-final penalty shoot-out exits. However, in the past two years, since the Philippe Saint Andre has taken over the French national team (I'm not going to say Les Bleus), they have morphed slowly into the English soccer team.
Former French out-half Thomas Castaignede has come out and said it in the Guardian today.
""France's rugby team has become the English soccer team.
You can see the same tendencies in French rugby as with the Premier League in English soccer, and it is creating the same problems. It is exactly the same. You have the most entertaining domestic league in the world but so many foreign players that it creates problems for the national side."
(Castaignede is clearly not one of those Bundesliga fanciers but has remained loyal to the old Premiership, "the most entertaining domestic league").
The fear in France, being voiced by many coaches, ex-players and journalists, is a familiar one to anyone who has witnessed debates on English football in the past fifteen years. The influx of foreign players has impacted on the ability of French players to break through and this has damaged the national side.In spite of the quotas that exist in France, native French players have had to slip down divisions to get starts. Castaignede again,
"The other day, I counted the number of French back-row players on the field in the Top 14, and there were only two in action, and there are other problem areas. The problem is that presidents and coaches think it is better to buy players who are mature than to form their own players over the years. The number of first-choice French players is more and more limited."
Philippe Saint Andre is sounding more and more like the grumbling and exasperated English managers of yore as the months pass.
"The number of overseas players is an issue, I am not against foreign players, I signed them myself at Toulon – Steffon Armitage, Matt Giteau and others – and I understand that culture. The Top 14 is a cash machine and success is everything. You must win to get a return. The other week I avoided the Heineken Cup to watch Stade Français in the Amlin because it involved more French players. It is something to be addressed."