- 19 Sep 07, 06:19 PM
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.