Behind Enemy Lines

October 12, 2022
3 min read

Match: England 12 - 19 France

Quarter Final, Rugby World Cup 2011

Location: La Belle Epoque, Place Plumereau, Tours, France

During the 2011 World Cup, I was living in the French town of Tours, on the Loire River. Not renowned as a hot bed for rugby, we found one pub which we could rely on to show the matches. Despite being students, the early kick offs from New Zealand did not faze us, and during the Pool matches we had several fun experiences in La Belle Epoque, just off the main square, as England made relatively serene progress to the Quarter Finals.

At this stage, however, they would face France, a country that had welcomed us with open arms. It felt slightly treacherous as I donned my England shirt and set off at 7am on Saturday, 8th October to join three friends at the pub. I was, however, feeling relatively confident about Martin Johnson’s side’s chances.

France, in contrast to England, had faced a tough group. Defeats to New Zealand and Tonga meant les Bleus only scraped through by virtue of Tonga’s surprise defeat to Canada. As we arrived, however, we were quickly reminded that, despite their sketchy form, this had not affected their fans confidence. The wall of noise from the 50 fans packed into the tiny pub was deafening, and the reaction to our choice of attire was as you’d expect.

We took our places at a table in the corner, just as the game kicked off. The first 40 minutes were a chastening experience for England as France battered us. The French fans, enjoying themselves as they cruised into a 16-0 lead, began to banter with us, purchasing us drinks and starting to speculate on the Semi Final.

England rallied in the second half, and we duly increased our volume as Ben Foden and then Mark Cueto gave us hope. The final minutes were a blur – the whole pub on their feet. It was, however, not to be for us – and the rendition of la Marseillaise at full-time, despite our own disappointment, was spine-tingling.

As we trudged out of the pub to find some breakfast, the French supporters broke off from their celebrations to applaud us out. It remains one of my favourite memories of living in France.

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