France secure dramatic victory
March 17, 2007
Substitute Elvis Vermeulen scored a last-gasp try to earn six-try France their fourth RBS 6 Nations Championship title in six years - barring an England miracle in Cardiff.
The number eight barged over from close range deep into injury time to earn the reigning champions a victory by 27 points, three more than they needed to overtake Ireland in the table. Les Bleus could only be surpassed by the English, but the world champions needed to beat Wales by a mighty deficit to snatch the crown.
France were marvellous throughout, although Scotland did put up a brave fight and scored three tries - through Nikki Walker, Sean Lamont and Euan Murray.They could not slow the French juggernaut though, and first-half tries by Imanol Harinordoquy and the magnificent Yannick Jauzion were added to by David Marty, Cedric Heymans, Olivier Milloud and, dramatically, Vermeulen. Lionel Beauxis, starting for France for the first time, nailed 16 points with his boot.
It was the perfect swansong for head coach Bernard Laporte, taking charge of Les Bleus for the last time in the Six Nations. The Scots began like a train. A minute's silence was observed before kick-off following the death of Scottish rugby figurehead Adam Robson, who passed away yesterday at the age of 78.
And the former Scotland international and Scottish Rugby Union president would have been proud with the way his country started the end-to-end encounter. A bludgeoning, two-minute forward assault by the visitors was ended illegally by Pieter De Villiers, who conceded a penalty.
But Paterson, who came into the game boasting a 95% success rate with the boot in this year's tournament, fluffed his simple chance. The visitors were not to be denied though, and they opened the scoring in the seventh minute when recalled winger Nikki Walker beat Clement Poitrenaud to a steepling Dan Parks up-and-under and grounded in the left corner. Paterson rediscovered his unerring accuracy to add the extras.
Beauxis would have been looking to calm any early nerves when France were awarded an 11th-minute penalty but, from distance, the Stade Francais fly-half pushed it wide. Les Bleus' handling was not up to scratch early on, but they were given encouragement by winning a scrum against the head in the 18th minute and forcing a penalty.
Beauxis made it this time to reduce the deficit to 7-3. The strong Scottish defence was only really breached for the first time in the 26th minute. Winger Cedric Heymans waltzed through a gap and fed Poitrenaud, but he was denied, twice, just metres from the line.
The Scots had infringed in the build-up to that move though, and from a quick tap, Les Bleus made further inroads before the recalled Harinordoquy bulldozed over from close range. Beauxis converted.
Before long, the French, backed by an increasingly vociferous crowd, had stretched their lead. The impish Pierre Mignoni made the break from scrum-half from halfway, and faced by Scotland full-back Paterson, he chipped the ball ahead.
Skirting Paterson, he collected and quickly offloaded to Jauzion on his shoulder, and the imperious centre went over underneath the post. The try needed the say-so of the video referee before Beauxis was allowed to convert.
Beauxis added a simple penalty from under the sticks to make it 20-7, but the last word of the half went to Sean Lamont. The winger made an initial break through the middle from halfway, and after he was held up, France were penalised. Instead of allowing Paterson an easy penalty, the winger took it upon himself to quickly tap and breeze through a gap in the stretched French defence to ground under the posts. Paterson converted to make it 20-14.
But Les Bleus were unstoppable after the break, knowing they had to go full throttle to catch the Irish. They regained their 13-point cushion in the 53rd minute, although lock Jerome Thion looked like he had blown the chance when he scandalously ignored a two-man overlap to be held up in the right corner.
The ball, however, was recycled and thanks to some deft handling by Jauzion and Heymans, David Marty was sent over in the other corner, despite initially fumbling Heymans pass. Again, the try went upstairs before being given and Beauxis bettered the score with a nonchalant conversion from the touchline.
And in the 61st minute, Heymans got on the end of some smart work by Marty to dive over for an unconverted score in the left corner. The final 20 minutes were dramatic.
After Scotland were reduced to 14 men soon - Sean Lamont yellow-carded even though he played not part in the incident which saw Marty flattened - France scored their fifth try. Olivier Milloud barged over through a melee of players from close range after substitute Pascal Pape had made deep inroads. Beauxis converted to make it 39-14 but then missed a penalty from distance.
Scotland fought back and turned down three kickable penalties, any one of which - if landed - would have put Ireland back in front on the table. It paid dividends in dramatic fashion heading into injury time, when prop Euan Murray took a long miss-pass from Paterson and powered over in the left corner to leave the score at 39-19. Vermeulen had the last laugh, however.
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