Le Touquet postcard: England settle into most British French resort
This time next week we will have a far better sense of the direction of travel for England at Rugby World Cup 2023 as by then the dust will be settling on the outcome of their opening Pool D match versus Argentina in Marseille.
Win and they will be in the fast lane to the semi-finals on the weaker side of the draw. Lose and their very survival in the tournament will already be in jeopardy facing a game two meeting with Japan in Nice.
It’s a highwire balancing act on the sweltering and sticky French Riviera a million miles away from their current location in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, the most British of French resorts.
For those who aren’t French history buffs, it was English businessman John Whitley whose enthusiasm led to the creation of ‘Touquet Syndicate Limited’ and from 1894 to 1913, the beachside town located halfway between Paris and London became quite the playground for sports, leisure and enjoyment.
One hundred and 10 years later, the destination is now playing host to the England rugby team. It will either be the richest inheritance from the old Eddie Jones era or the hospital pass from hell, depending on the pool stage results on their travels to Marseille, Nice and Lille (twice).
It was Jones who last year decided that the town by Le Baie de Canche was the ideal place for England to base themselves for five weeks of training and R’n’R away from the weekend pressures of winning must-win matches.
Jones was since pushed aside – ironically he can now be found on the opposite side of France, hanging out with the Wallabies at their Saint-Etienne base in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes.
That is a very different location compared to what Borthwick and co have encountered since their arrival on Thursday at the recently renamed Elizabeth II International Airport of Le Touquet Paris-Plage.
They landed across the Channel in the Hauts-de-France region following the worst preparation ever by an England team for a World Cup, with suspensions, injuries and dispiriting losses stalking them every step of the way, but you wouldn’t detect that judging by the current public demeanour of the players.
They were all high jinks and banter before suspended skipper Owen Farrell, with a cajoling “Let’s go, lads. Let’s go, let’s go” led them onto the pitch for Friday afternoon’s open training session in front of 500 local school children at the Stade d’Athletisme Ferdi Petit.
This excitement was again evident at Saturday afternoon’s Rugby World Cup capping ceremony at the nearby Place de l’Hermitage facility where another very French welcome was to be had.
“It feels like it’s a long time coming. We are absolutely delighted to be here. It seems like we have a brilliant training base. Yeah, we’re delighted,” enthused assistant Richard Wigglesworth after the caps had been fitted and the participation medals pocketed.
Everything is local, by the way, in this leafy, salt-air resort. England’s hotel is a blink-and-you-miss-it bus ride to their training ground while the busy long strand beach is a short walk via the warren of small but bustling streets (well, they were teeming on Saturday morning with the market open).
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT ?
– Steve Borthwick was busy working on the England maul at Friday's open training session in Touquet. It was their first time on the pitch after arrival in France on Thursday for Rugby World Cup 2023. #RWC2023 #EnglandRugby pic.twitter.com/vMKWiepgII
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 1, 2023
As secluded as the resort town is compared to some other tier one nations’ base camps, Borthwick won’t enjoy coming under an even more intense spotlight having arrived at the finals with England losing five of their last six matches and six of their nine in total under the rookie Test-level head coach since he succeeded Jones last December.
You could sense that on Friday when he strangely walked out to training on his own in advance of his squad and staff, immediately asking for changes to the flexible barrier belt stanchion set-up separating the media from the players.
He’s that sort of a guy, a stickler for unnecessary detail who demands getting his way. It doesn’t make him popular. Negative comments, for instance, dominated the reaction to the maul training footage that RugbyPass later posted on Facebook and X.
However, the only thing that will ultimately matter about his management style is England winning or losing matches, starting next weekend. After a seven-night stay in Le Touquet, they fly south to Marseille next Thursday ahead of their September 9 World Cup opener against Argentina.
That is the moment of truth for Borthwick’s England. Not the past month and the underwhelming Summer Nations Series. Allez les Blancs.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 2, 2023
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