Quins legend Leonard relishing French reconnection
Harlequins legend Jason Leonard reckons beating the French inspired England’s World Cup win and is hoping for a repeat performance this weekend.
The 44-year-old packs down for the British & Irish Legends when they take on France Legends at the Stoop tonight, 24 hours before Quins skipper Chris Robshaw leads his country out at Twickenham.
Leonard was part of Sir Clive Woodward’s squad that lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy 10 years ago thanks to a heart stopping 20-17 extra-time win over Australia in Sydney.
The Barking-born prop, capped 114 times for England before retiring from the game soon after that historic win, believes the greatest moment in English rugby was built on a semi-final win over France.
And while Robshaw et al get ready to face Les Bleus tomorrow, Leonard cannot wait to test himself against a familiar foe once more – but he would like better weather this time.
“The game against France was the game of the tournament for me,” he said.
“We played really well, Jonny Wilkinson’s kicking was fantastic and Frederic Michalak had an absolute nightmare.
“People talk about the rain affecting the game, but whenever I’ve been to France with England it always seemed to be raining.
“There is only a narrow bit of water separating the two countries, so when it rains here it is likely the French will get it too.
“It was a relief to get to the final really, but once you get there you do not want to waste the opportunity.
“We talked about that after the game and once we’d performed so well against France it was a case of making sure we performed in the final.”
Serge Betsen, who scored in that 24-7 semi-final defeat, captains France tonight, while Michalak will be on duty for his country tomorrow.
And Leonard is only too aware of what is in store come kick-off.
“We’ve all played at the highest level and knocked 10 bells out of each other,” he added.
"We might all be friends and can enjoy a beer or two after the game, but no one plays the game to come second.
“Supporters want to see some of the great players play again and it is all for a good cause.
“As we are all getting older, you always know you could get injured but that won’t stop us going full on.”
With the 10th anniversary of England’s win, Richmond-based Leonard is beginning to feel his age, but one crumb of comfort is the development of his old club as a domestic and European force in the eight years since his retirement.
“The club has come on leaps and bounds since I retired,” he said.
“Not just in terms of the facilities, but in terms of the players too. The young players that have come through are pushing the club forward, which is great to see.
“It was a special year last year, but it could be even more special this year.”
* The match raises money for Wooden Spoon – the children’s charity of rugby – and the Serge Betsen Academy and Provale. Tickets (priced £10 and £5 for children) are available at quins.co.uk or on the gate.