France rediscover their scoring touch
October 24, 1999
Xavier Garbajosa opens the scoring for France
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France rediscovered themselves at Lansdowne Road as they charged into the World Cup semi-finals.
The French had been bitterly criticised at home for not adopting to the present-day game. But they majestically sneaked back into the old ways as they carved out an excellent victory over quarter-final outsiders Argentina. That's not to say that the Pumas were completely outplayed. Not in the least. They gave as good as the got in a cracking tie that galloped along at tremendous pace to please the 35,000 crowd.
But it was France who set out their stall right from the kick-off and could have buried the Pumas in the opening quarter. Playing with the openness and flair that has made them renowned throughout the world, they carved open Argentina in a pulsating opening session which left the opposition drawing breath.
Their key men were undoubtedly the back-row of Olivier Magne, Marc Lievremont and Christophe Juillet, along with ancient warrior Abdelatif Benazzi. But while they did the hard work, it was the silky skills of the backs who applied the killer punches as they ran in five tries.
Fly-half Christophe Lamaison was also in splendid kicking form as he contributed 22 points with five conversions and four penalties.
It was Lamaison who started the ball rolling in the second minute with a straight-forward penalty, and four minutes later it was full-back Xavier Garbajosa scoring the first of his two tries as he sprinted in under the posts after a flowing move from deep inside their own half with No. 8 Juillet giving the important scoring pass.
In the 10th minute, France were thinking that the game was already theirs when Philippe Bernat-Salles started and finished a move. A French drop-out cannoned off Gonzalo Longo and Bernat-Salles gained possession to sprint upfield. And after the back-row had all handled, the French right winger was up in suppport again to touch down.
But France fell back into their old of the past 12 months as they fumbled and ran up blind alleys. Argentina pounced and it was their brilliant and innovative scrum-half Agustin Pichot who started the fight-back.
From a scrum five metres out, his little legs fairly motored to help him dive over the line, although there would be a question mark over whether he actually touched down. Anyway, the World Cup's top goalkicker Gonzalo Quesada knocked over the conversion and added a penalty in the 26th minute to put his side on the road.
But France interrupted the comeback with another try, this time gifted by Argentine captain Lisandro Arbizu. A slow ruck ball saw him being put in possession and his clearance kick was charged down by Emile Ntamack and the Toulouse express won the race for the touchdown.
Another Lamaison penalty in the 33rd minute put France firmly in control again, but little did they expect Argentina to claw back the leeway again. But they did in tremendous style with Arbizu making up for his early mistake by escaping the clutch of Ntamack to slide over the line. Quesada again converted and landed a penalty to leave the half-time score at 27-20.
The second half started with Quesada missing an audacious penalty attempt from inside his own half and prop forward Mauricio Reggiardo receiving a yellow card for a straight arm tackle on Richard Dourthe.
It was France who got the important points on the board first with Lamaison inflicting the damage again. Argentina were visibly tiring at this stage, but not before they played some brilliant attacking rugby that engrossed the large crowd. They deserved to creep nearer to France who again had slipped their guard with Quesada and his replacement Felipe Contepomi converting penalties to leave the score at 30-26 going into the last quarter.
But France turned on the style as only they can with Bernat-Salles and Garbajosa adding their second tires as they ran the legs off the Pumas, and sets them up with the daunting task of facing the mighty All Blacks.
Scorers: France: Tries: Garbajosa (2), Bernat-Salles (2), Ntamack; Pen: Lamaison (4); Con: Lamaison (5). Argentina: Tries: Pichot, Arbizu; Pen: Quesada (3), F Contempomi; Con: Quesada (2).
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