Alastair Hignell

England leave history behind (36)

Versailles - Based with the England team in Versailles, it’s difficult not to get historical, and far too tempting not to draw parallels.

The vast chateau complex started life as a modest little hunting lodge before Louis XIV decided to make it the envy of the world.

The absolute ruler was so full of himself that he encouraged his subjects to think of him as the Sun King, while coming up with such modest, self-deprecating little sound-bites as “L’Etat, c’est moi!”

Of course, England’s autocrat was only a knight and though Sir Clive is no longer in power he would surely approve of another Louis-like legacy on view in Versailles.

Everywhere they go, the England team are escorted by a posse of police outriders, although they really come into their own only when the team is going the wrong way down a one-way street!

And how about this for another parallel?

The French monarchy effectively ended when the Sun King’s grandson, Louis XVI, and his queen, Marie Antoinette, were dragged to Paris, via some ritual humiliation at the hands of the mob along the way, to an ultimate appointment with the guillotine.

The Bastille may have long gone, but is the Stade de France its 21st century equivalent?

And finally on Versailles.

I haven’t been able to check this out but wouldn’t it have been great if, as he was taking his leave of the England party, injury-hit centre Jamie Noon knew enough history trivia to borrow a bit more from Louis XIV: “Apres moi, la deluge!”.

England will be glad in more ways than one to escape from Versailles.

Nantes is altogether less pretentious; a down-to-earth commercial hub that provides the perfect link between the land of the Loire and the sea of the Atlantic.

It’s the sort of place that encourages you to roll up your sleeves and get down to hard work.

It’s also the place that inspired a whole new style of play. “Jeu a la Nantaise”, so I’m informed by Wikipedia, describes a revolutionary, one-touch high-speed style of football.

Dare we hope that England have been waiting to get to the sea-faring city to unveil their new approach?

And as for historical precedents, surely inspiration can be drawn from the war-time raid on St Nazaire that took out the Germans’ most important Atlantic–facing dry docks?

The only trouble is, the port had earlier been the setting for the worst disaster in British maritime history.

According to Wikipedia, the worst loss of life for British forces in the whole of World War 2, came when the RMS Lancastria was sunk with 4,000 evacuation-bound troops aboard.

The runes, it seems, are at best unreadable, at worst ominous.

For while FC Nantes hold the record for consecutive seasons played in Ligue 1, with 44, they’ve just been relegated to Ligue 2.

And those Samoans who love their history will be positively salivating over the Edict of Nantes, in 1598.

In effectively bringing the French Wars of Religion to an end, Henry IV instantly legitimised the outcast underdogs, the Protestants.

At the stroke of a pen a hitherto excluded, vilified and deprived group of people were given a place at the top table.

Ever since 1991, and their first historic World Cup victory over an established rugby nation, Samoa have been dreaming of such acceptance.

Could the name of Nantes resonate in world rugby history in the same way it resonates in French political history?

Or is it just a game of rugby taking place on Saturday?

Alastair Hignell is a former England rugby international who commentates on rugby union for Radio 5 Live. He is covering England at the World Cup. 5 Live's full broadcast schedule is here.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 11:01 AM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • dave wrote:


  • 2.
  • At 11:08 AM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • jameswarwick wrote:

Alistair, what on earth are you talking about?

  • 3.
  • At 11:24 AM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

It's not just the runes that are unreadable!
And if you're going to sprinkle your copy with French quotes, please get them right.

  • 4.
  • At 11:58 AM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Spencer wrote:

Whilst war time analogies are all well and good, the outcome of a Rugby match pales into utter insignificance when compared to the horrors experienced by those on RMS Lancastria

My grandfather (a decent rugby player in his own right) who passed away in 1995 was a survivor of said tragedy and had nightmares about it for the rest of his life.

I'd suggest that should England lose, we'll all be a bit upset. We won't however be in the sea covered in fuel oil burning to death whilst being strafed by German fighter planes.

  • 5.
  • At 12:04 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • BartonAlan wrote:

I think Martin Corry is wrong about England not having reached their potential yet, they already have with this set up!

  • 6.
  • At 12:30 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Michael Steer wrote:

England will retrace history not leave it behind. The history of England and Wales has been tied up since Edward II. Samoa (or at least the Western bit) may well be common painful history to both rugby nations.

  • 7.
  • At 12:31 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • matt wrote:

Snap, I have just read it twice and realised I still dont have a clue about what your on about.Please take notice of your headline " Leave History behind"

Ummmm this is a Rugby blog correct?
Current form it will be close this Weekend. I would love to see Samoa beat England (then we can get rid of another coach/team that havent performed) but I think England will just do it

  • 8.
  • At 12:31 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • henri wrote: boring

  • 9.
  • At 01:00 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • woofio wrote:

No this isn't BULL. Bull is useful as you can spread it on your rhubarb patch.

  • 10.
  • At 01:02 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • kipperchris wrote:

Thanks for putting everything in perspective. If and when we lose, i might just spend a bit of time thinking about all those lost heroes instead of crying into my beer over a rugby match.
All the same, for the moment, come on England, give us something to shout about.
Alistair, what on earth are you drinking out there - let me know as i am going over for the Tonga game and may well need some of it!

A very different piece - don't be put off by the predictable polysyllabophobia of the response. They don't teach history in schools now, you see.

  • 12.
  • At 01:27 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Huw Roberts wrote:

That is, without a doubt, one of the very worst articles I have ever trawled through in my life. Pretentious, vapid and almost unreadable.

  • 13.
  • At 01:28 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Tim Sims wrote:

Well said Spencer. As Keith Miller (Oz cricketer and WW2 fighter pilot) once said, "Cricket isn't pressure. Pressure is a Messerschmidt up your @rse."

Still can't get over the Pythonesque images of Jamie Noon quoting Louis XIV in French and Samoans "positively salivating" (no, really?) over the Edict of Nantes... Nantes may well be less pretentious; it's a shame that doesn't rub off on its visitors.

  • 14.
  • At 01:42 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Peter Manning wrote:

"Still can't get over the Pythonesque images of Jamie Noon quoting Louis XIV in French"

I thought it was Del Boy he was quoting... ;O)

  • 15.
  • At 01:44 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Warren Marabwa wrote:

england needs more than a miracle to make history or to make any impact watch out for South Africa

  • 16.
  • At 01:51 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Taliesin wrote:

Hmm. Methinks ex-rugby internationals shouldn't read too many books. Leave that to the bards amongst us who not only speak topically but also coherently.

  • 17.
  • At 01:53 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Taliesin wrote:

Hmm. Methinks ex-rugby internationals shouldn't read too many books. Leave that to the bards amongst us who not only speak topically but also coherently.

  • 18.
  • At 02:15 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Nick wrote:

Worst Article ever!

I expected some historical rugby facts not some tripe you have put together to simply fill space. In my line of work i would get a warning for this level of work!

  • 19.
  • At 02:15 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • alfie noakes the 2nd. wrote:


  • 20.
  • At 02:17 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Pinot Noir wrote:

Higgers is on absinthe, I'm sure!

"Hipkiss me Hardy”

  • 21.
  • At 02:32 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Alain Q. wrote:

May I suggest that you stick to rugby and leave French history behind ?

Lois XVI was not the grandson of Louis XIV and Louis XIV never said "après moi le déluge". His great-grandson Louis XV possibily did, for what it matters...

  • 22.
  • At 02:47 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Cherry Picker wrote:

Verbose claptrap

  • 23.
  • At 03:10 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Alan Melville wrote:

No offence, Alistair, but this is just inane. Please stick to writing about rugby.

  • 24.
  • At 03:28 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Simon Gwilliam wrote:

Just to clear a few things up, after all, if you're going to liken the failure of the England Rugby team to one of the most tragic days of WW2 - I think it only proper to get the facts correct.

- She was RMT Lancastria (not RMS) when she was drafted into war service
- There were roughly 6000 people on board, 5000 of which died (not 4000)

Other than that - good blogging! If it weren't for the tedious, rambling awfulness that you produce, I'm not sure I could get through the working day.

Now... Where did I put my Guardian?

  • 25.
  • At 03:32 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Rory wrote:

I thought the comment about the England team 'driving the wrong way down a one way street' was quite fitting.

  • 26.
  • At 03:49 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • mURPHY ROCKS wrote:

what is the point (of) Alastair Hignell?

BBC why are you wasting my Licence Fee on this cobblers?

Instead of their isolated hotel at Versailles, this shower AND THE RFU BLAZERS freeloading with them should have been at breakfast at our Paris hotel with the bokkers on Sunday morning.

One said, quite genuinely "We flew 10,000 miles to watch that rubbish. Couldn't you at least have made a game of it?"

Problem is - he was right. I did explain that it is a bad team that was having an off day. Still, let's be optimistic: we might just get a result from playing Iceland away.

  • 28.
  • At 05:48 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • tim c wrote:

Alistair not every thing you read on wiki 100%. As for history,both teams were better in 91. IFhistory of 91

is repeated england get to the final!!!! Fat chance.
Thought point of history was to learn from it if so making the same mistakes as the lions no pace and correy who was a much better player then, played 3 games in 9 days and has not been any thing like as effective.As yet, it would seem, not learning from history
is a prequisite .At least unlike the sun king i am not
that deluded. ABSINTHE sounds worth a punt .

  • 29.
  • At 07:38 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • Heliosporites wrote:

As noted by many other readers, this article is highly irregular. Using Wikipedia as a primary source verges on dangerous in my opinion. Is this the standard of journalism that I pay for via my TV licence? On the basis of this article the letters BBC really stand for British Bull **** Corporation.

  • 30.
  • At 11:54 PM on 20 Sep 2007,
  • anton kidd wrote:

It"s "apres moi, le deluge" and it was Louis xv who said it - schoolboy error mate...

  • 31.
  • At 01:01 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Frankness wrote:

Really great incisive article, especially the bit where you ask Ashton and the team about trying Moody Rees Easter as the back-row...brilliant

  • 32.
  • At 06:00 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Chris wrote:

I read that Martin Johnston is making himself available to coach and manage England after this world cup. Given a free reign to do it his way and not the way of the ERB he may just return us to our former glories. He is embarrassed by the meagre display of this present side. Perhaps Martin can restore the team to winning ways and shed the monstrous lack of confidence present in the current team. Roll on the next world cup!

  • 33.
  • At 10:07 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • JB wrote:

The only thing that matters is what England's 15 men do on the pitch. Whilst that sounds obvious, the players on the pitch need to forget all assessments and take the game to the opposition with more fire. We have seen attempts at control and shape - the England players also need passion, belief and more getting on each others shoulders. If England's players get their heads sorted, they can beat anyone. Think, get to or with the ball quicker and decrease errors.

I wish them all the best.

  • 34.
  • At 11:31 AM on 21 Sep 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

Interesting history parallels highlighting England's woes and probable destiny. Clever.

For more information about the Lancastria visit the largest online archive dedicated to the memory of the victims, at

I don’t think sporting analogies to this horrific incident are particularly useful or helpful, especially with references to England as the victims came from across the UK, Ireland, France and Belgium.

  • 36.
  • At 03:43 PM on 22 Sep 2007,
  • RealRugby wrote:

Ok ok.....war is a terrible thing. However watching england play rugby is a far more terrible fate for anyone! Halfway through watching Samoa v. England...guess who is leading..... with the worst rugby I have seen since,,,,,well crikey I dont know when. Glad Johnny is back though, adds some real flair. (Please pick up on the irony)

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