Pro divisions (Top 14 and D2) are quite respectful on the pitch. The real problem is in amateur divisions (Federale) where brawls are numerous and often seen by the coaches as a legit strategy. For instance, your team will on purpose commit a knock-on to get a scrum, then a stealthy second row punch that may heat up in a front row brawl. There are a lot of rivalries.
The problem with the french is that their attacking game is non-existent. Consequently, to win, it is necessary to obtain penalties. I do not want to fall in the stupid ' France is always badly arbitrated', but generally that does not goes well. I am sure that Dussautoir, who is very respected by the SH referees, can have a big influence, but Swarzesky, Papé, Michalak, Tillous-Borde, etc. have no charisma in term of refereeing. Moreover, our forwards are not considered to adapt itself quickly to the refereeing (especially the front line in the scrums, even when they dominate). »