France end England's World Cup dreams
Graham Jenkins at Eden Park
October 8, 2011
Maxime Medard scored the second of France's two first-half tries
© Getty Images
Delon Armitage Chris Ashton Mark Cueto Imanol Harinordoquy Dylan Hartley Marc Lievremont Nicolas Mas Morgan Parra Mike Tindall Dimitri Yachvili
A revitalised France booked a Rugby World Cup semi-final clash against Wales with a stunning 19-12 victory over England at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
First-half tries from winger Vincent Clerc and fullback Maxime Medard helped France bounce back from their shock pool stage defeat to Tonga last weekend and bring an abrupt halt to England's own World Cup hopes. Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili added two penalties and replacement fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc a late drop-goal as France exacted revenge for their semi-final defeats at the hands of England in the last two tournaments.
An error-prone England were shut out in the first-half but raised their game after the break with fullback Ben Foden and winger Mark Cueto offering hope of a dramatic comeback. Ultimately they were left to rue a series of missed opportunities and crucial errors that handed a priceless initiative to their cross-Channel rivals.
England wasted no time in spreading the ball, with centre Manu Tuilagi finding some space down the touchline before a well weighted kick from centre Toby Flood forced Yachvili into some desperate defence. France scored an early victory at the lineout to clear the danger.
England were soon back on the front foot with captain Lewis Moody leading the charge, while Jonny Wilkinson and Flood kept France on their toes by switching at first receiver. The opening score came courtesy of Yachvili's boot after a penalty against Flood at the breakdown and it almost got a lot better for the French soon after with a good tackle from fullback Ben Foden required to deny Clerc a try in the corner. But they didn't have to wait long for another opportunity with England's scrum gifting Yachvili the chance to double his side's lead.
Referee Steve Walsh's whistle continued to haunt England, with another breakdown infringement handing Yachvili the opportunity to add to his tally, but this time he pushed the long-range kick wide of the posts. His boot soon had England in trouble again, with a box kick putting Foden under pressure inside his own 22. A knock on brought further woe. England's scrum survived the latest test but the same could not be said for the lineout with France happy to pounce on any shortcoming.
Turnover ball was shifted wide and centre Maxime Mermoz created an opening for Clerc to exploit. The winger still had a lot to do but was up to the task, with a mixture of power and pace carrying him past Chris Ashton and Wilkinson before he out-foxed Foden with a twist in the tackle that took him over the line. Yachvili was unable to add the extras but Flood's attempt to get his side on the board with a drop goal a few moments later was equally poor.
Tuilagi was England's most potent threat with ball in hand but handling errors blighted what promising phases his team-mates could string together. Lock Louis Deacon was the next to be penalised for some lazy running, with Yachvili's pin-point box kicking laying the foundation for the raid but on this occasion the kick was sent to the corner for the lineout.
France had little trouble in retaining the ball while flanker Thierry Dusautoir met little resistance as he wriggled free before powering towards the line. England tried desperately to snuff out the danger by any means but France recycled the ball with Servat driving close. Fly-half Morgan Parra then worked it wide to winger Alexis Palisson, who drew three defenders before popping the ball back inside for Medard to claim an easy score.
Yachvili's failure to convert served as a let off but England's back division mis-fired as they looked to launch a riposte. France had little trouble finding their rhythm with quick ball and good hands putting Palisson into space but he ran out of room as England scrambled back.
England finished the half with a flourish that saw a good offload from Wilkinson put No.8 Nick Easter into space. Ashton and fellow wing Marc Cueto then combined well down the line with the latter hauled down just a couple of metres short but England then combined to squander the opportunity - and repeated the feat in the last move of the half with Wilkinson sending a pass into touch with a try for the taking in the corner.
A penalty allowed England to take game to the France in the early stages of the second-half and the forwards turned the screw with a powerful drive, but the ball was lost in contact and the chance was gone.
England's defence came under further scrutiny but France were not immune to errors themselves. Their penalty count crept nearer parity but the offences were largely deep in England territory. That did not both England scrum-half Ben Youngs who make big gains after a quick tap before his forwards lent some muscle. Tuilagi loomed up on the crash ball and with the French defence stretched, Foden was able to coast through a gaping hole and grab crucial try, was converted by Wilkinson.
France's indiscipline continued to offer England hope and they fed on that frailty, with Flood producing a superb linebreak, but he lacked support and the move came to an abrupt halt. Within a minute they were in the shadow of their own posts with a knock on serving as a reprieve.
Wilkinson was withdrawn as the game entered the final quarter with Flood moving into the playmaker role and Matt Banahan slotting in at inside centre. Both were involved immediately in a move that saw lock Tom Palmer and Cueto go close and Flood's creative ability was to the fore again soon after only for France to scramble the ball away.
France pressed for the score that would take the game beyond England, with No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy leading by example and his fellow forwards following in kind. Their efforts ate away precious minutes before Trinh-Duc dropped back into the pocket from where he stroked over a drop goal.
A late surge took England within range and while their lineout faltered Banahan soon carved an opening through the middle. He failed to spot Ashton on his shoulder but the ball was recycled and Cueto eventually muscled his way over despite Clerc's best efforts. A lengthy delay as the Television Match Official reviewed the action did not help Flood, who pushed his conversion wide of the posts.
Forced to chase the game with three minutes on the clock, England looked to run from deep but the normally direct Tuilagi was bundled into touch. France secured the ball at the lineout and delighted in forcing a penalty that Parra hit against the post but it did not matter as the game was won.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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