- Former England prop explains French passion for scrummagging
- Vickery sees “real progression” in Lancaster's England
Phil Vickery believes England’s pack is developing impressively under Stuart Lancaster but says an away match in Paris will provide an acid test of their credentials as a world-beating force.
Vickery, who won 73 caps as a tight-head between 1998 and 2010 and was a prominent part of the 2003 Rugby World Cup success saw “real progression” in Graham Rowntree’s forwards over the course of the QBE Internationals last November – which featured victories over Australia and Argentina before a hard-fought defeat to New Zealand.
The 37 year-old former Gloucester Rugby and London Wasps man praised the likes of Dan Cole, Mako Vunipola and Joe Marler for adapting to the new scrum law variations, before highlighting the renewed dynamism injected by Courtney Lawes.
However, looking ahead to Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations opener at the Stade de France, Vickery stressed the hostile atmosphere and huge intensity that England will be taking on.
“It’s not just about the scrums, it’s the whole physicality,” he explained. “The French have so much passion and in France, front-row forwards are rockstars.
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“The country really values and appreciates front-row play because there is a big emphasis on it. We talk about their silky backs and the sleight of hand they possess traditionally – Serge Blanco, Phillipe Sella, Thomas Castaignede, all of these. Actually, it’s about their forward pack.
“I grew up watching Christian Califano, who took front row play to a whole new level. They just pride themselves on it. As a player, I used to test myself on playing the French and the South Africans. The physicality, the emotion, the pain and the hurt don’t get any bigger than in Paris.”
An ex-Kingsholm teammate of France coach Phillipe Saint-André, Vickery played down the supposed disharmony surrounding Les Bleus’ 2013, which saw only two Test match wins over Scotland and Tonga.
That said, he also back England to back up their sensational 24-22 triumph in 2012 with another victory at the same venue.
“The French are always in turmoil, that’s normal, but they do have serious talent – I’m just not sure how Phillipe is going to be able to fit it all together for it to work.
“England will take a lot of confidence from the autumn – I remember leaving Twickenham thinking they had really delivered. There is a lot more to come but they have done their country proud. I think they can and will win.”