France claim Grand Slam in paris
March 27, 2004
Dimitri Yachvili crosses to score
© Getty Images
France duly claimed their fourth Grand Slam in eight years, but did their level best to blow it. In complete control for almost the whole of the 80 minutes and allowing England only rare incursions into their territory, they still allowed the World Cup holders back within range in the final minutes.
That France were able to survive the final three minutes with not the remotest threat to their narrow lead testifies to their overall superiority. This was a match they should have won by 23 points rather than three.
England finish third in their first Six Nations as world champions and cannot complain. They were outplayed by both Ireland and France, and only French benevolence allowed them back within range on this occasion.
In territorial and possession terms France dominated the second half as completely as they had the first, which they ended with a merited 18 point advantage. But they managed only three points from the boot of scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili, who finished with a personal tally of 19,while twice allowing England to score on the break.
The first score, shortly after Mike Catt had replaced the ineffective Will Greenwood at centre, came after Yachvili had been collared at the base of the scrum, France failed to clear and a sharp move concluded with Catt floating a long pass to the unstoppable Cohen who scored on the left.
Yet France still lead by 13 and seemed well in control. They were still in control when Olly Barkley landed a penalty on 70 minutes, but failed to drive home their advantage and were truly shaken with three minutes to go when Josh Lewsey escaped down the right to score. Barkley converted and a remarkable comeback seemed possible, but France regrouped sufficiently to survive in comfort, if not by the shattering margin that had earlier looked likely.
England had endured perhaps their worst first-half since Jonah Lomu destroyed them in the 1995 World Cup semi-final as France established complete control in the first 40 minutes. In recent years the assumption has been that even when England are under the hammer, their defence will keep them in the game - as Clive Woodward pointed out after the Ireland match, the really striking thing was that they lost by only six points.
But France had both the power and the cutting edge to turn their superiority into points. They were on the front foot from the start, with skipper Fabien Pelous soaring to win lines-out and Olivier Magne conspicuous in the ensuing drives taking them deep into England territory, where they camped for most of the half.
It looked for a while as though England might contain them, but once Dimitri Yachvili kicked a 25 metre penalty in the 18th minute, the scores came in a steady flow. Five minutes later France turned over England line-out ball and while Yannick Jauzion was pulled down a few yards short on the left, they recycled to switch direction and a towering Frederic Michalak found Imanol Harinordoquy by himself on the right touch-line. Accused by England flanker Lewis Moody this week of lacking bottle, Harinordoquy showed considerable nerve by waiting for the bounce and calmly claiming it for the touch-down.
Yachvili missed the conversion, but landed two more penalties before the break - Olly Barkley replying immediately to the second. The Biarritz scrum-half, whose Georgian-born father Michel hooked for France in the late 1960s, administered the final first-half blow two minutes before the break. England were once again disrupted on their own ball around 20 metres out and Yachvili kicked the loose ball down the blind side and won the chase to touch down by yards. His conversion took his personal first-half tally to 16 points and the half-time margin to a scarcely credible 21-3.
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