France humiliate England in Paris
March 12, 2006
Christophe Dominci dives in to score against a hapless England
© Getty Images
France will go into the final weekend of the Six Nations as favourites, leading Ireland on points difference, but have still not remotely reached the heights they promised during the autumn.
A good French team might have gone on from a marvellous start, 13 points up inside 10 minutes, to give England a real hammering. This one took the best part of an hour to cross the English line again, and allowed both concentration and execution to waver to the extent that there were times when it seemed possible that the desperately limited English might even fight their way back into contention.
Only 13 points down, rather than than the 30 that would have reflected the balance of play, England bristled briefly at the beginning of the second half and cut the lead to 10 when Andy Goode, a half-time replacement for Charlie Hodgson, landed a 42nd minute penalty.
But minus Hodgson - who had not had one of his better days - England are as blunt as blunt weapons get and never really looked like crossing the French line.
On an afternoon characterised by poor handling, wrong options and abysmal tactical kicking, France at least looked as though they wanted to make things happen. They finally extended that lead with 12 minutes to go as Damien Traille made an angled break, kicked ahead and collected the rebound to saunter over after Florian Fritz and three Englishmen had all failed to gather.
Dimitri Yachvili missed the conversion, but added a penalty then converted in the final minute when Christophe Dominici went over.
Conventional wisdom about playing France in Paris holds that you have to contain and frustrate them, denying them space and points and getting the crowd on their backs.
On this count England could not have made a worse start. Matt Dawson, sufficiently close to being ruled out with a stomach bug before the game that Andy Gomarsall was to be seen warming up, hoisted an up and under which was fielded and returned with interest.
The ball was allowed to land inside the English 22 and the rebound was picked up by Fritz who charged unstoppably to the line with only 40 seconds gone. Yachvili landed the conversion.
The ex-Gloucester scrum-half added six more points to his already formidable tally - 37 points in the last two seasons - against England in the next 10 minutes as France pressed remorselessly forward. While there was a considerable element of ill-luck about the first - Joe Worsley penalised for holding on to the ball after it had been thrown to him when he was on the ground surrounded by Frenchmen - the second reflected pressure in the scrum.
At this point all England had to encourage them were memories of Wales accomplished here after a spectacular French start last season and Ireland's recovery last month. It took them 12 minutes to get out of their own half and nearly half an hour before they got very far into French territory.
But by mid-half there were suggestions that France were losing their momentum. Yachvili missed a kickable penalty, Frederic Michalak botched a drop and Fabien Pelous dropped the ball on halfway without an Englishman within five yards. When England finally launched a proper attack, France were penalised on their own 22 but Charlie Hodgson's penalty struck the post.
Yachvili extended France's lead to 16-0 on the half hour after Josh Lewsey failed to release, but Hodgson atoned for his earlier error by getting England on to the scoreboard from close range a minute before the break, which his team-mates could spend reflecting that while 3-16 was hardly the scoreline they would have hoped for, it might have been very much worse.
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt won the tactical battle and set his team on course for a shot at the Grand Slam. Tom Hamilton reports from Dublin
With the World Cup only a few months away, the last thing France needed was doubts over the future of their coach, writes Huw Richards
They came to Murrayfield looking to put down a marker, but Scotland were sent home with their tails between their legs, writes Tristan Barclay