As England prepare to welcome France to Twickenham on Saturday, Rugby’s Greatest Podcast takes a closer look at one of the Six Nations’ biggest rivalries — ‘Le Crunch’.

Host James Gemmell is joined by Kyran Bracken, Serge Betsen, Natasha Hunt and Ben Foden in episode four (Apple / Spotify) as he attempts to uncover what makes England-France matches so special.

Bracken faced Les Bleus seven times during his England career, winning five but losing both matches he played in Paris.

“You kind of get this feeling when you're in Paris that the French players have a responsibility, not to win the game, but to entertain,” he said.

“They're just a different beast at home. They feel very confident and they're there to entertain, and it's just a different animal from any other team you ever play against.”

Learning from defeat

One match against France that sticks in Bracken’s mind is the 20-15 defeat England suffered at Stade de France during the Six Nations in 2002, which ultimately secured Les Bleus the Grand Slam, at their rivals’ expense.

It proved to be Bracken’s final Championship start against France, and he pays tribute to the role Betsen played in the result.

“Jonny Wilkinson had never been rattled in his career before,” he said. “You (Betsen) put him out of kilter, you stopped our general playing.”

Betsen, who won half of his 10 test matches against England, described that victory as an “amazing day” for France as it came less than 12 months after a 48-19 defeat at Twickenham.

“We wanted to have that revenge, actually, and we wanted to do something special,” he said.

“The most important players in [the] rugby field when you're a flanker are the scrum-half and the number 10, who are the people who are recycling, carrying, calling the rugby ball all the time. 

“And, and as a back-row, as a flanker, my natural instinct was to try to chase you guys and try to make the most of my natural ability to tackle.”

Bracken and England would exact their own form of revenge at Rugby World Cup 2003, where they secured a 24-7 semi-final victory en route to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.

According to the former scrum-half, however, “you learn a lot more from your losses than you do your wins” and defeat to France in 2002 provided England with some big lessons on their journey to becoming RWC 2003 winners.

“In fact, Serge Betson's [performance], the way he played in 2002, helped England win the World Cup,” Bracken said.

‘Pressure cauldron’

Gemmell and Bracken are also joined by Hunt and Foden on the podcast, and the former says that France is her “favourite place to play by a mile”.

“There's something special about running out at home at Twickenham,” Hunt said. “But for me, going out to France, and the hostility, the environment that comes along with it, the atmosphere when you walk in, you just know that every time you touch the ball, they want you to drop it. 

“They want you to make an error, they want you to mess up, and it is almost that pressure cauldron that people talk about. 

“For me, though, I love it. That’s the thing that I relish the most.”

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