Shaw enjoying third decade of battles with France


Thu, 24 Feb 19:06:00 2011

When it comes to playing against France nobody in the current England side can match the experience of Simon Shaw.

Shaw, who turns 38 this year, is preparing for his 12th cross-channel battle on Saturday as one of the replacements for what may be the pivotal Six Nations championship match.

If he takes the field and England win, Shaw's overall score would be level at six wins and six defeats, with three of the losses coming in World Cup warmup matches.

Shaw's first match against France was in 1997 when, partnering the present manager Martin Johnson, he helped England to a 20-6 lead before a French comeback earned a famous 23-20 Twickenham victory.

"I got a harsh lesson in that game when it looked done and dusted but they somehow came back to win it," Shaw told Retuers in an interview.

"So knowing that and having played against them when they red hot and played against them when they're appalling it's a lesson you bear in mind every time you play them."

Johnson, who made his England debut against France and faced them 13 times, agreed. "I never felt we broke them," he said on Thursday. "When I started we had a run of three or four wins then they did the same.

"Sometimes you got on top of them early and others you couldn't touch them but every time I played against them it was bloody difficult."

Shaw, at 2.03 metres and 123 kgs, has never generally needed to resort to verbals to get his point across. But he said the days when a few well-chosen comments could induce a red mist in the men in blue were long gone anyway.

"The whole game is more disciplined now and players work hard to stay in control," he said. "In those games, when the atmosphere is really cranked up, that's when you have to be at your most switched on."


Shaw said the 2007 World Cup semi-final in Paris was probably his most notable clash, even if he can remember virtually nothing about the game which England won 14-9.

After both teams had earlier suffered bad defeats in the group stage England had just come off one of their best peformances in years to beat Australia while France had stunned New Zealand to restore hopes of a first title and on home soil.

"It was an incredible atmosphere," he said. "The game was very chess-like with nobody wanting to make a mistake.

"It was one of those games when you are on autopilot, you are so focused on getting everything right. It was so intense yet to had to try not to get too emotional.

"You don't think of anything but what you are doing in the moment and you can barely remember anything afterwards."

Since then there have been two more Six Nations wins over France for Shaw, including the 34-10 Twickenham success in 2009 which remains France's last championship defeat.

The last time he faced them, however, was the 2010 12-10 defeat that secured another grand slam for France.

"Games against France have generally tended to have that extra edge because there have been so many decider-type matches in World Cups or Six Nations," said Shaw, who made his England debut 16 years ago when current scrumhalf Ben Youngs was seven.

"Also in recent years they've been the northern hemisphere sides who have had more success against the southern hemisphere so it's always interesting to see who comes out on top in that matchup."

After Saturday's encounter Shaw has his eye on one more French matchup, a potential World Cup quarter-final in New Zealand in October.

Having missed out on the 2003 glory when his only involvement was as an unused replacement and then losing to South Africa in the 2007 final, it would be an obvious way to sign off his international career.

"The World Cup had been a driving force from the start of the season," said Shaw. "When I was younger I was never one for setting goals but as retirement draws closer I tend to have a little one for each season now.

"A couple of years ago it was to play well enough to get selected for the Lions, and that worked out so, yes, the World Cup is definitely a target."


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