Rugby: France beat England to win Grand Slam

29th March 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 27 (AFP) - Fearless France stunned world champions England 24-21 here Saturday to complete their second Six Nations Grand Slam in three years and enact sweet revenge for their World Cup semi-final loss in Australia.

PARIS, March 27 (AFP) - Fearless France stunned world champions England 24-21 here Saturday to complete their second Six Nations Grand Slam in three years and enact sweet revenge for their World Cup semi-final loss in Australia.

It was an awe-inspiring performance from Bernard Laporte's men who outplayed England in attack and defence, taking the game by the scruff of the neck to lead 21-3 at half-time.

But they had to survive a furious late onslaught from the English who took their chances to fight back to 24-21 with six minutes to go.

France ran in two tries through No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy and scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili with man-of-the-match Yachvili adding one conversion and four penalties for a personal points haul of 19 points.

Wingers Ben Cohen and Josh Lewsey scored England's tries with late replacement fly-half Olly Barkley landing three penalties and a conversion.

"I thought we were going to win but it just seemed to get away from us in the last ten minutes," said England coach Clive Woodward.

"This sport is all about winning and we lost. They just about deserved to win.

"We could have chanced our hand a little bit more in the last ten minutes and not kicked the ball away. But we competed very well. We have had a good season, we won the World Cup. Now we have to move on."

A record Stade de France crowd of just under 80,000 roared on the French side for the first-ever night-time Six Nations kick-off as they looked to bury the bitter memory of the 24-7 World Cup loss to England four months ago.

Barkley missed a long-range penalty attempt in the second minute after the French backs were pulled up for offside, but England were soon under pressure as flanker Olivier Magne drove through the heart of the Red Rose defence.

The French made a hash of the ensuing scrum on their own put-in 10 metres out and though looking the livelier early on, there were signs of nerves from Bernard Laporte's men in a game that French sports daily L'Equipe headlined starkly as "The Revenge".

Full-back Nicolas Brusque pinned England back with a finely judged kick to touch in the 14th minute. The French pinched the line-out but again indiscipline let them down as they were penalised for diving into the ruck.

Tearaway flanker Serge Betsen stunned novice stand-off Barkley with a crunching tackle and from the break-down France gained possession allowing Frederic Michalak to chip over the England defence.

France opened the scoring after 19 minutes when Yachvili made no mistake from 23 metres out after England were outscrummaged and penalised by Irish referee Alain Rolland.

Centre Damien Traille was short with a monster penalty attempt from 55 metres two minutes later, but the French went 8-0 up in the 23rd minute as they stepped up the pressure on an outgunned England.

England botched a line-out in their own 22-metres and Yachvili floated over an exquisite cross-field kick from the right to the unmarked Harinordoquy who had all the time in the world to gather the ball and touch down. Yachvili missed the conversion from the left touchline.

The world champions struggled to get out of their own half and they went 11-0 down after 31 minutes when Yachvili booted over from 30 metres in front of the posts after Matt Dawson went offside at a scrum.

Yachvili and Barkley traded penalty kicks to make it 14-3, but the England pack spilled the ensuing kick-off and coach Clive Woodward looked on in horror as Yachvili sent through a perfect grubber kick, gathered up the ball just short of the line and dived over for the second try of the match.

The Biarritz No 9 again converted to send France into the break with a commanding but well-deserved 21-3 lead.

England came out strongly in the second half but were again pinned back by a marvellous touch kick from Michalak, enjoying a commanding game to make amends for his sorry showing in the World Cup semi-final.

Barkley cut into the French lead with a penalty in the 48th minute, but three minutes later Yachvili replied in style to make it 24-6.

England finally opened their try account after 52 minutes when they won possession inside the French 22-metres and spun the ball out left.

Replacement Mike Catt threw a long pass over the French centres for winger Cohen to easily run in for a touch down in the corner. Barkley missed a difficult conversion.

But if England were hoping that would turn the tide, they were soon disappointed as wave after wave of furious French attacks left them gasping.

Elhorga was held up short of the line twice as England held on grimly and the visitors cut the gap to 24-14 with another Barkley penalty after 72 minutes.

Two minutes later England were back in the game when a crunching midfield tackle by skipper Lawrence Dallaglio forced the French midfield to spill the ball.

The English backs worked the ball out to Lewsey who wriggled his way past the remnants of the French defence for Barkley to convert.

But that was as close as England got as France wrapped up the European crown with the eighth Grand Slam in their history.


                                         Subject: French news

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