Francois Cros: Record victory over England at Twickenham was ‘beyond our wildest dreams’
As the tremors around Twickenham subside after a quite seismic display of running rugby from France, James While caught up with French flanker Francois Cros.
Cros was a key man in Les Bleus’ domination of the breakdown and a player delighted with the win as he comes back into his best form after eight months out with a horrendous ACL reconstruction.
Dream day at Twickenham
“Yeah, it’s amazing to win in this Twickenham stadium and to be back for France after my knee issues; it’s been 18 years since our last win, and then we produced a performance like this; it was beyond our wildest dreams,” Cros commented.
“Of course, we wanted to win today, and we had confidence that we would, but this result is absolutely amazing for us.
“Our game really improved from the last rounds – a very good performance for my team. Now, we’re going look at the game against Ireland tomorrow, and we wish England well next week, hoping perhaps that they might do us a favour!”
Many judges thought England could push France all the way in this fixture. Wins against Italy and Wales had shown the green shoots of English recovery under Borthwick, and the match looked a lot closer on paper than it turned out.
Was Cros surprised at the magnitude of the win?
“Yes, I am really surprised about the level of the score. We really wanted to create a memorable performance here tonight, and we talked about it before we stepped on the train on Friday,” he said.
“We wanted to show how we have progressed and to get some confidence into our team. The pleasing part is how well the game plan went. We played as we trained, and that’s always fantastic.
“We had seen our stats since the start of the Six Nations this year, and whilst our results weren’t bad, we were unhappy, especially about what we call the ‘Manyana Manyana’ [emotional rhythm] of our team.
“It’s important for us to feel that rhythm and feel happy about the performances, and we certainly were not. We wanted to correct that, to focus on delivering and executing our plan, and for it to go so well is remarkable – a real windfall for the team and one to build upon.”
Winning the forward battle
Cros revealed that France spent a large chunk of the week focusing on their breakdown and knew that if they were going to beat England, they would need to win the battle up front.
“We always know that we are facing big forwards against England and that we, as a unit, it was key to get superiority in the scrum and line out, and we were also aware of how good the English back-row are at the breakdown,” he explained.
“We focused all week on breakdown work, planning how we would work together to get an edge. It was absolutely key for us to win those battles to create the platform, to retain the ball and to create phase momentum.
“Of course, it helps that Jonathan Danty is like our fourth back row, our quatrième troisième ligne! He was so happy to be playing once again, and he was keen to prove he was ready and back at his best level.
“Defensively, he knew he had a big personal duel against Ollie Lawrence, who has been so impressive, but from the very first tackle, we knew he was ready. His influence on that defensive effort and on the breakdown was huge.
“We knew it had been 18 years and were well aware of the recent results, but we wanted to write our own piece of history in this stadium – the first time for the Fabien Galthie era – but it was also important in terms of the performance and improved execution that we delivered.
“We knew our physicality hadn’t been up to the mark so far this year, especially against Ireland. That was something we really wanted to fix. The French media had talked a lot about this in the build-up, and that stung us.
“When the press are calling you out in this way, you really want to show they’re wrong and to prove a point back to them, and yes, their words hurt us- but tonight, I think we’ve shown everybody a much better image of French rugby,” observed the Toulouse flank.
The battle with Willis
With Cros in direct opposition against his Toulouse teammate, Jack Willis, and with both of the breakdown specialists returning to the Test arena after long layoffs due to troublesome ACL injuries, there was a remarkable symmetry about the head-to-head between the two players.
Cros admits Willis has been a big influence on Toulouse and has particularly enjoyed playing with him.
“Yes, I saw Jack after the match – he’s a great guy, a high-quality player, and I felt a little sad for him as clearly he was hurting badly. Of course, he’s going to be devastated about the result, but it’s wonderful to see him back in an England shirt, playing really well in the Six Nations so far, and I’ve really enjoyed working with him at Toulouse, becoming good friends,” he said.
“I am uncertain if he’ll stay with us at this moment as there’s no clarity over the future eligibility rules for England for French-based players. It’s key that Jack does what’s best for his career.”
For France, Saturday’s display at Twickenham has put them back onto the road to delivering that first World Cup on home soil and has shown that they’re still a force to be reckoned with.
Does Cros believe that this is a turning point and a portent of France’s ability to become world champions?
“Of course, we can win it. Anyone can. But winning a World Cup is not about one-off performances; it’s about getting those rhythms back into the team and being consistent over the whole course of a tournament,” he said.
“We weren’t were we needed to be before this match, but I know everyone in the camp is a lot happier tonight. We will see!”
France complete their Six Nations campaign against Wales at the Stade de France on Super Saturday, March 18. They will then face a nervous wait as Ireland tackle England in the final match, which will decide the winners of the 2023 Six Nations.
READ MORE: Owen Farrell: England captain dissects the record Six Nations defeat to France
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