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Que la force soit avec eux, “May the force be with them”

Que la force soit avec eux–may the force be with them–is on the cover of Paris Match magazine this week. France’s national rugby team les bleus (the blues) plays England’s team on Saturday night in the semi-finals. I don’t know if England’s players are “the whites” or what. Rugby teams seem to be called by the main color of their uniforms.

Leon MacDonald has put in extra training to make sure he's safe under the high ball. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Simon Turnbull wrote about the celebration last week when les bleus beat favored New Zealand’s All Blacks. “As the champagne corks popped all over the French capital last Saturday night and World Cup fever spilled on to the Champs Elysees, it was impossible to move for partying Parisians. Some were hanging naked from lamp-posts waving tricolores, in celebration of France’s unlikely quarter-final victory against New Zealand in Cardiff.

[For those of you who read my write-up of the vandalism at the Orsay Museum, this rugby celebration was the same night as the museum’s break-in and subsequent damaging of the Monet painting.]

“Others were performing hakas [Maori war dances accompanied by chanting] on the bonnets [hoods] of grid-locked, horn-honking cars. Everywhere you turned, though, there was one recurring image: the thick flowing locks and the shaggy beard. Someone had done a roaring trade in the familiar get-up of the national hero known as “l’homme des Cavernes” [the caveman].

MAN-MOUNTAIN: Sebastien Chabal     images/new_players/players_large/sebastien_chabal.jpg    

“The caveman look . . . has made Sebastien Chabal . . .  a cult figure in his homeland . . . .  [T]he 29-year-old replacement has become the symbol of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. For six weeks now, all over France, Chabal’s face, and his Neanderthal image, has stared down from billboards and magazine covers.

“He has been voted the sexiest man in France and the sexiest player at the World Cup. Whenever the 6ft 3in, 18st No 8-turned lock emerges from the replacements’ bench, his countrymen and countrywomen rise to their feet and shout: “Mmmm … Chabal!” It is a reference to an advertisement for “100 per cent French beef,” which carries the tag-line “Mmmm … Charal!”

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For sale at the supermarche near my house are wedges of red, white, and white face paint. I could smear the tricolors on my face–or whatever–to support les bleus. But I’m not really the market for this kind of extrovertedness; besides, I hardly even know how rugby is played. From what I’ve seen so far it’s mainly large, violent men grabbing the ball and pushing each other. But there’s a huge, white blow-up rugby ball hanging in the center of the Eiffel Tower, and all of France will be rooting for the force, the Blues, and for the Caveman tomorrow night.

[Post script: England won the game 14-9.]

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