Twenty years ago, France had Gregoire Lascube and Vincent Moscato sent off for a stamp and a head-butt respectively as hostilities boiled over at the Parc des Princes.
Former England hooker Brian Moore used to relish winding up the Les Bleus before the match and the England-France internationals never lacked ferocity.
Although the game has been cleaned to a large extent, the need for that ferocity remains.
And Rowntree is confident the England forwards are ready for the challenge of matching an imposing French pack, anchored by Perpignan tight-head prop Nicolas Mas.
"England against France is a long-standing rivalry at club and international level," Rowntree said. "As a forward, it is ultimate combat against a French pack. France in France, with that crowd behind them, fantastic.
"They bring a special intensity. The game is cleaner now but more physical. You can't be stood fighting because you should be somewhere else making a tackle.
"I was explaining to Chris (Robshaw, the England captain) about the atmosphere.
"When they sing the anthem the occasion is fantastic and we are ready for this now."
As if the size of the challenge needed emphasising, Rowntree won six caps during his England career against France and only ever tasted victory on one occasion.
Two years ago, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole were replaced at half-time after England failed to cope with a French scrummaging onslaught led by Mas.
Both front rowers have spoken this week about that experience, how it has remained etched in the memory and that tomorrow is a chance for redemption.
Rowntree believes the England pack has improved game on game during the Six Nations, although they were given a difficult time in the first 20 minutes by Wales.
The lineout has also improved significantly with the selection for Geoff Parling in the second and Rowntree is excited by what lies in store for his pack.
"This has come at the perfect time and it is a big challenge. Our lads have shown courage and we will see that tomorrow," Rowntree said.
"We have been developing nicely. Every game we have been getting better. It is a step up for our forwards. It is a big challenge but we are ready."
Lionel Beauxis is determined to prove he can call the shots for France - and shed an unwanted nickname.
The Toulouse fly-half, who will make his first France start in three years on Sunday, has become known as Bernardo after Zorro's mute side-kick because of his introverted nature on the field.
Beauxis hates it and knows the best way to shake the idea he is not commanding enough would be to lead France to to victory over England and keep their title hopes alive.
"From the moment this name became associated with me I have hated it," said Beauxis. "It has in fact motivated me more to shed this image. I have worked on myself. Since I left Stade Francais, I have made genuine efforts.
"Even if I still have work to do I find that a more extrovert side is coming more naturally to me."
Beauxis returns to the France starting line-up after coach Philippe Saint-Andre decided to change both his half-backs following last weekend's 17-17 draw with Ireland.
Beauxis replaces Francois Trinh-Duc and former Leicester scrum-half Julien Dupuy has been preferred to Morgan Parra.
"It's a strategic choice on my part. England are the team that occupy the field of play the most, especially away from home," Saint-Andre said.
"It's also because during our first three games we struggled to really get going, and we had trouble getting out of our own half during the first 20 minutes."
Dupuy is equally frustrated about how he is perceived, although much of that was his own doing after he was banned for 23 weeks in December 2009 for gouging Ulster flanker Stephen Ferris in a Heineken Cup match.
That suspension halted Dupuy's Test career when he had just contributed to two of the best victories during the reign of Marc Lievremont, a 27-22 victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand and a 20-13 win against South Africa.
"Honestly it really annoys me that I am still asked about it three years after it happened," Dupuy said.
"It is in the past, it is something I should not have done, but I still think it was too heavy a punishment. Full stop."
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