A tiny corner of France that is more British than Britain is defying the rest of its nation and cheering on England to beat South Africa tonight and win the Rugby World Cup.
Le Touquet has been painted red and white as they back Steve Borthwick’s men to avenge Les Bleus’ defeat to the Springboks last weekend.
The coastal town was built by British entrepreneur John Whitley in 1902 to reflect the spirt of the entente cordiale between England and France.
The town hall belfry chimes like Big Ben, the airport has been after the late Queen, and the casino inspired Ian Fleming to write Casino Royale.
With France crashing out to South Africa last weekend the town is desperate for their friends from across the Channel to take their revenge in the semi-final tonight.
‘We have two reasons now to support the England rugby team,’ local mayor Daniel Fasquelle told the Mail. ‘We have this strong relationship, and also this team is able to avenge the French rugby team.
Le Touquet has been painted red and white as they back Steve Borthwick ‘s men to avenge Les Bleus’ defeat to the Springboks last weekend
The coastal town was built by British entrepreneur John Whitley in 1902 to reflect the spirt of the entente cordiale between England and France
‘All of Le Touquet will be behind England. When I talk with my citizens, they all support England now. In the town we have a very big red and white rugby ball surrounded by 15 roses – I think it is a very clear message.’
St George’s flags have been draped through the resort which counts Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming and PG Wodehouse amongst famous holidaymakers.
Such has been the fever since the England squad set up camp some forgot of the natural hostility from the rest of their countrymen to the English.
Local tour guide Alice Oniszczyk travelled with 15 friends to watch England play Samoa in Lille wearing polo shirts with the St George’s flag on.
‘We were the only French people cheering on England – it was so awkward,’ she said. ‘It shows that Le Touquet is a kind of bubble, an exception in France.’
The Red Roses have seen their fortunes change since it was hosted by the Channel resort for the tournament.
Mr Fasquelle, who has flown across the country to watch them play, said: ‘Before England arrived here, they lost match after match, but since breathing the air of Le Touquet they haven’t lost.’
While the town is devastated that France have crashed out of their own tournament, there is also relief for some who were not so sure who they would have supported if they had faced England in the semi-final.
St George’s flags have been draped through the resort which counts Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming and PG Wodehouse amongst famous holidaymakers
With France crashing out to South Africa last weekend the town is desperate for their friends from across the Channel to take their revenge in the semi-final tonight
Schoolchildren learnt the words to God Save The King to sing to players as they trained with some youngsters converted to the England team.
Mr Fasquelle is emphatic that ‘100 per cent’ of the town would have been ‘patriotic’ and backed France. But for Ms Oniszczyk, it would have been more difficult. ‘I have to confess, it would have been very tricky for me,’ she said.
‘I would have felt like an unfaithful, ungrateful French girl cheering for the opposite team. Now that is not going to happen so I will be happy and free to cheer England on.’
While it was the beauty of Le Touquet’s Westminster hotel – a favourite of Churchill’s – that is said to have inspired Casino Royal, the Red Roses were put up in less glamorous surroundings.
The team stayed at the local Holiday Inn, with previous coach Eddie Jones picking the venue for its proximity to a training ground that was opened in 1903 by Pierre de Coubertin, the French founder of the modern Olympic movement.
At least the team were permitted to ‘roam freely’ into town with hardened front rower Joe Marler among those seen cycling through the streets for dips in the sea.
It saw the 4,500 locals take the team into their heart, describing them as ‘humble’ and ‘normal’. As England departed for the knockouts last week there were tears from some of their hosts.
But they will be packing out the bars this eveningcheering on their side. ‘I truly, truly hope that the squad will beat the South Africans,’ said Ms Oniszczyk. ‘I will cross my toes and my fingers.’