Cool-headed England won the day, say French players

14th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS (AFP) - French players praised the cool, old heads in the English side after Jonny Wilkinson nailed two late kicks to seal a hard-fought 14-9 World Cup semi-final win for the defending champions.

PARIS (AFP) - French players praised the cool, old heads in the English side after Jonny Wilkinson nailed two late kicks to seal a hard-fought 14-9 World Cup semi-final win for the defending champions.

France were leading 9-8 with six minutes to play at the Stade de France on Saturday, but England never gave up, showing unerring determination in their forward driving which set up a base for Wilkinson to snag the headlines with a penalty and trade-mark drop-goal two minutes from time.

"England deserved to win," said flanker Serge Betsen, who had admitted before the match that his long-time nemesis Wilkinson was still the best No 10 in the world despite a horrendous list of injuries suffered since he booted England to World Cup glory four years ago against Australia.

"They didn't play much rugby but they took their chances and they controlled the match when it mattered most," said Betsen.

"We're all frustrated and very disappointed. They did not outplay us, and didn't really display anything great. It's true that it's the victory of the non-game. They displayed a realism, a mastery, and that's that."

Indeed, neither side played much running rugby. After England winger Josh Lewsey crossed for an opportunist opening try after 78 seconds, the stage was all set for an entertaining match.

What spectators got was enthralling, but it did not much involve the backlines.

There was a tight battle between the front fives, parity in broken play, blanket defences in midfield and ping-pong kicking duels in a bid to gain territorial advantage.

Thierry Dusautoir, who was outstanding in France's shock 20-18 quarter-final win over tournament favourites New Zealand but struggled against the streetwise England pack, said: "It's a huge disappointment.

"It's the team with the most experience and cool-headedness which won."

France backs coach Bernard Vivies said it had been the right decision not to change the French team from the one that beat the All Blacks.

"We could have changed the side and then gone and lost all the same, and everbody would have taken us for idiots," Vivies said.

"The English kept the same side (which beat Australia 12-10) and they won."

Vivies regretted the fantastic tap-tackle by replacement flanker Joe Worsley on winger Vincent Clerc, in full flow in the English 22-metre area, advancing fast and unmarked to the line in the final minutes.

"The match was over if that had not happened," he said.

Frederic Michalak, who came on with 30 minutes left in place of Lionel Beauxis - who kicked all France's three penalties, said the aerial battle had been part of the gameplan but admitted that England's lack of ambition had been France's undoing.

"The players were just doing what they had been to to do. They were told to kick a ball, and they kicked a ball.

"It worked against the All Blacks because they always try to counter-attack. The English didn't look to counter-attack. They kicked the ball back and waited for the error.

"We could have played with a bit more ambition, working more with ball in hand," Michalak said, adding that the team had lacked some freshness and desire.

Bernard Lapasset, the president of the French Rugby Federation, admitted that there had been some frustration over the gameplan.

"We maybe hesistated too much in knowing whether to play the kicking game or keep the ball in hand," Lapasset said.

"We lacked a bit of lucidity that we left in Cardiff (against New Zealand)," he said, praising Wilkinson for his role in England's victory.

"When you leave a space for Jonny Wilkinson, he uses it, whether it's through kicking or using the ball in hand. He's an exceptional player who gives a balance to the England team."


Subject: French news

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