HE is a proud Englishman but Dan Scarbrough would love to see France rejoin the international top table – and believes they can do so with the thrilling rugby they were once renowned for.
However, it is so long since Les Bleus consistently played with the flair and elan most associated with them – Serge Blanco, Philippe Sella, Philippe St Andre et al – that some rugby people believe it was merely a brief passing phase.
Indeed, the very notion they are or ever were ‘style kings’ is just nonsense, a cliche even, especially given some of the mundane, rudderless rugby seen at times under previous national coaches Marc Lièvremont and Bernard Laporte.
But Scarbrough, the former Leeds Tykes winger who not only went on to play for England but club rugby in Paris, too, with Racing Metro, argues otherwise.
Ahead of tonight’s RBS 6 Nations opener between the fierce rivals at Twickenham, he maintains the belief that France are inherently gifted and, importantly, with revered Toulouse coach Guy Noves at the helm, able to demonstrate that on the biggest stage.
That, of course, could pose trouble for champions England’s 14-match winning run.
But Scarbrough, who played for Racing Metro from 2008 to 2011, told The Yorkshire Post: “People used to love watching the French and I hope they can really bring it to England, push them and I definitely feel they can do that with some style.
“When I moved out to France, they were still trying to play the Guy Noves way, that classic French style of rugby that you remember growing up with, tries started from behind your own line.
“I really saw it in France; they played with a bit of feeling and weren’t caught up with structure.
“It was about keeping the ball alive, staying on your feet, offloads, support either side and a lazy runner out the back.
“That’s how he did it and when they got it right with him at Toulouse, they were devastating.
“Yes, modern-day defences have learned to choke things a bit more but I do believe it can still be done.
“Admittedly, a lot of teams learned how to counter it. Even when we played against France, we forced them into a structured game. I remember Clive Woodward always telling us when we cleared our lines to clear the ball into the green seats.
“He wanted to make sure there was no quick line-outs and everything had to be kept tight.
“From that, it would be hard for them to gain any of that momentum.
“In the club game, with the number of overseas players that have come into the Top 14, it became more structured again as they tried to get back up with the rest, especially the English and Irish. But there’s been a big shift once more. The other way wasn’t particularly working and they’re now thinking let’s get back to what used to work.
“Guy Noves is the architect of it all and it’s great he is now in charge of the France team.”
Scarbrough, who went on to feature with Saracens after making his name at Tykes and won two caps, believes England coach Eddie Jones realises the threat this France side pose as veteran Noves begins his second Six Nations championship in charge.
The 38-year-old continued: “Eddie Jones has tried to push his mind games saying there’s pressure on France to come out and play with their flair, saying they have everything to lose as they are trying to convince a nation and his players to believe in that.
“But for me all the pressure is on England.
“They’ve won 14 games straight and are expected to get another but if they don’t, although I don’t think there’ll be a huge backlash as such, there will be a lot of questions asked.”
Bingley-born Scarbrough also spent two years with Lille before returning home to Yorkshire and he is now rugby project manager at Queen Ethelburga’s College near York working with his former Tykes team-mate Rob Rawlinson.
He is looking forward to seeing the French threats come alive tonight after they pushed both Australia and the All Blacks close in the autumn.
“Scott Spedding at full-back is a great attacking player but the key man for me is Baptiste Serin at nine,” he added.
“But, of course, with their strength in depth, England are obviously favourites.”