Rugby World Cup: England Greatest XV v France Greatest XV - Who Would Win?

Ahead of tomorrow's early morning quarter-final, we pit fifteen of the best ever to represent France against the ultimate England side to see who would emerge victorious.
Publish date:
Updated on


Greatest Ever England XV

15: Jason Robinson - Blessed. 9
Here's to you, Jason Robinson

14: Dan Luger - Some would look to the Underwood brothers or Ben Cohen, but when it came to finishing Luger was in a class of his own. Would have starred on the 2001 Lions tour were it not for an unfortunate training injury and might still be a force in the game had not the death of his close friend and fellow international Nick Duncombe reminded him that there's more to life than rugby. 8

13 Jeremy Guscott - He whinged like a bitch in training, was always quick to pat himself on the back and has become one of the Beeb's sourest pundits but, my God, when he was in his pomp, no one made the game look easier or more beautiful. The rugby equivalent of David Gower. 8

12 Will Carling - Forget the knob he was off the pitch and remember the great stuff he did on it. From straightening the line to giving England direction after a decade of abject failure, we've a lot to thank old Bumface for.  8

11 Peter Jackson - After years when England's try count was almost non existent, we've been pretty spoiled since the 1990s. But while names like Oti, Cueto and Lewsey are all worthy of consideration, ask you grandfather who the best flyers of his generation were and he won't hesitate to mention Peter 'Nijinsky' Jackson, the man described by the Kiwi press as 'the zaniest runner of all time' after he racked up 16 tries in 14 games. An oldie then, but a goodie. 9

10 Johnny Wilkinson - Ignore the naysayers and the idiots who boo his every action: Jonathan Peter Wilkinson is a generational footballer who we’ll be talking about from now until we all meet up in that great big clubhouse in the sky. Sure, Toby Flood’s terrific on his day and Rob Andrew (eventually) became a very reliable figure, but Wilkinson made the remarkable a part of his everyday game, whether it be goal kicking (that penalty in the first half of extra time against Australia in 2003), tackling, passing or try scoring. Oh, yes, and he accomplished everything in the international game despite losing umpteen of his best years to injury. And while things haven't been going so well for him in New Zealand, who’d bet against him coming good this weekend? 10

9: Matt Dawson - Forget the cooking and the dancing and the fact he always sounds so pleased with himself: Dawson was a big reason why we won the World Cup. Capable of outplaying legends like Gregan and Howley, he also had a good eye for goal as he demonstrated against the ACT in 2001. And he knew his way to the try line, too. 9

8: Dean Richards - With his rolled-down socks and old skool physique, Deano wouldn't have lasted long in the professional era. But as England transformed from whipping boys to winners, the lawman from Leicester was a key source of solidity and strength. Once described getting a kicking in Hinkley at 4 in the morning as an ideal preparation for international rugby. A good guy to have with you in a fight. 9

7: Peter Winterbottom - Just edges out Neil Back on account of his height and the fact that he played a lot of his rugby in an England side that spent a lot of time beneath the posts wondering where it had all gone wrong again. Calibre underlined by his sensational Currie Cup performances and the fact he made the 1983 top five list of players in New Zealand, the year the Lions visited the land of the long white cloud and had the arses handed to them time and again. 9

6: Richard Hill - In a fair world, Richard Hill would be considered the finest Englishman ever to lace up a pair of rugby boots. But with so much of his work going unacknowledged, the flanker is forever destined to be remembered as one of the game's quiet achievers: the truth being that he had as much to do with the World Cup win as Johnno, Wilko and Woody. 10

5: Simon Shaw - Danny Grewcock might have been more athletic but he was always getting pinged, and Wade Dooley could blow hot and cold. The Kenyan-born Shaw, however, is starring down the barrel of 40 and is still at the top of his game. Recent success as an impact player could add years to his already impressive career. 8

4: Martin Johnson - Like Bobby Moore except he never came a cropper in a Colombian jewellery store. A soul so stoic, he could even tell presidents where to stick it. 10

3: Phil Vickery - Terrific at the set piece and often devastating in the loose, the 'Raging Bull' has the words 'I will fight you to the death' tattooed on his arm. A guy you'd be happy to go to war with, let along take to the rugby field alongside. 8

2: Steve Thompson - Not perhaps the Thompson of today but the bloke who came along in the early 2000s and proved that a hooker could play like a flanker while weighing as much as a small Asian elephant. Some took umbrage when his teammates described him as on a par with the great Keith Wood. In truth, at his peak, Thomson was even better. 9

1: Jason Leonard - Wins out over the likes of Cotton, Woodman and Rendall because of his ability to prop both sides, his surprising athleticism and his unique affability: ask any Celt to name a decent Englishman and that odds are that, if they’re a rugby fan, they’ll either say Richard Hill or Jason Leonard. 9

Subs: Jeff Probyn. A champion scrummager who was mobile by today's standards, let alone those of a time when props were simply expect to push hard and drink harder. Mark Reagan. Gets the nod over Brian Moore thanks to his patience, his never-say-die attitude and the fact we don't have to listen to him trade verbal blows with pompous ass Eddie Butler. Tim Rodber. The ex-Army man could play all back five positions with equal facility. Lawrence Dallaglio. A shoo-in for many, Lol would be handy if Deano ran out of puff, or felt the need to pop down the joke shop. Austin Healey. Bloody annoying but who else has represented England as scrum-half, fly-half and winger?). Will Greenwood. File next to Richard Hill in the 'hugely underrated' department. David Duckham. That hair, that sidestep - who better to come on with 20 minutes left than the King of Coventry himself?

Total score: 133

Greatest Ever French XV

15: Serge Blanco - The world's most famous Venezuelan, at least until Hugo Chavez emerged on the scene, Blanco's vision and verve is summed up by his role in this supreme piece of Gallic flair. 9

England-France 1991 Grand Slam Decider:

14: Émile Ntamack - He was built like a wall but his elusiveness and nose for a try made Ntamack as valuable as his ability to play centre, wing or full back. 8

Try From The End Of The World:

13: Yannick Jauzion - France mightn't be in such poor shape if they could still call upon the talents of Jauzion, a giant with wonderful ball skills who couldn’t break the line any easier if he was a 6′ 8” scab worker armed with a sledge hammer and a bad attitude. 9

12: Phillipe Sella - Appropriately at the centre of French rugby throughout the highs of the 1980s, it's a shame we never got to see Sella play at international level during the professional era. Would he have been found wanting? Or would we have been left wanting more? Forgive me if I put my money on the latter. Smoked like a trooper too. 9

11: Patrice Lagisquet - The heart says Philippe Bernat-Salles (that speed, that unruly grey mane) but the head puts a good case forward for the Bayonne Express whose ability to run 100m in 10.9 seconds almost saw him swap the touchline for the track. 8

10: Jo Maso - Have France ever produced a truly great fly-half? They've certainly turned out a lot of talent but as they were gifted so guys like Thomas Castaignède and Frédéric Michalak often didn't deliver on the big day. As for Maso (in truth, a centre rather than an outside-half) he's here because he's been inducted into the International Hall of Fame. But was he better than, say, Thierry Lacroix or Didier Camberabero? Or was he simply more consistent? 8

9: Fabien Galthié - Former national coach Bernard Laporte described Galthié as the greatest scrum-half in French history and while he was wrong about lots of other things, on this occasion the bespectacled one was right on the button. The 2002 IRB International Player Of The Year Award further underlines his excellence. 9

8: Imanol Harinordoquy - "Who's this Harry Nordoquuy bloke?" my father once remarked. He then proved he wasn't completely losing his marbles by rightly describing the proud Basque as the best No. 8 in the world today. 9

7: Serge Betsen - Jonny Wilkinson must still have nightmares about the man-marking job the Grim Reaper did on him in 2002. Awesome on his own, when teamed with Harinordoquy and Magne, Betsen was all but unstoppable. 9

6: Olivier Magne - The oil that made the noughties French backrow run so efficiently, Magne's talent bordered on genius. And unlike Richie McCaw, he didn't need skulduggery to stamp his authority on the game. 10

5: Olivier Roumat - It would be nice to pick Jean Condom simply on account of the name ("Condom Keeps England At Bay" the headlines read one year) but then he barely ever won a lineout. Roumat meanwhile nicely bridged the gap between old-fashioned lock and free-running back five forward. 8

4: Fabien Pelous - France's most capped player, Pelous was equal parts stoic and stolid. Might have surrendered his place to Abdelatif Benazzi were it not for i) Benazzi's temper, and ii) the fact that, unlike Abdel, he's actually French. 7

3: Robert Paparemborde - Fran Cotton called him 'immovable'. France have spent 30 years trying to replace him. Teamed with Phillipe Dintras and Gerard Cholley, he ensured the flamboyant French backs had all the ball they could ever wish for. 9

2: Raphaël Ibañez - It's tempting to select the aforementioned Dintrans but it's impossible to overlook Ibañez's skills around the park or the amazing regenerative abilities of his hair. 9

1: Gerard Cholley - Like Paparemborde, Cholley left France with a problem they've never really solved. Up there with Cotton, Charlie Faulkner and Graham Price as one of the great European props of the 1970s. 9

Subs: Pascal Ondarts. It wouldn't be France without a bit of eccentric selection so here's Ondarts providing cover at tight head, loose head and hooker, all of which he played at international level. Abdelatif Benazzi. An animal perhaps but an animal able to play lock, no. 8 and - at a push - blindside flanker. Thierry Dusautoir. We could have gone for the estimable Laurent Cabannes or the mighty Jean-Pierre Rives but Dusautoir's already on the cusp of becoming a legend and he's still the right side of 30. Pierre Berbizier. The nearest French rugby came to finding a Napoleon, Pierre was good on the front foot but not so comfortable at retreating from Moscow. Franck Mesnel. A fly-half with the ability to play centre, Mesnel played his best rugby alongside... Jean-Baptise Lafond. The ultimate utility player whose gifts were so great they complicated his career since coaches never quite knew what his best position was. Dennis Charvet. The rugby equivalent of Eric Cantona, Charvet could never quite find his place and eventually quit the game for an acting career. But on his best day, rugby wasn't a game it was an art form.

Total score: 130

So England just edge it then - as they hopefully will on Saturday. Looking at that French bench, though, you have to wonder how things might turn out if England lost a man to the bin with less than 20 minutes to play. Still, if they did rip us to shreds at least they'd do it with plenty of panache.

Click here for more Football and Sport stories

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter

Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook