England breeze past France
April 12, 2001
Richard Hill crashes over to score for England
© Getty Images
At Twickenham today the England machine careered on, blowing away a 94-year scoring record against the French in an, in the end, convincing 48-19 win.
Another bag full of tries, another scintillating second half performance and, in this year of records, a new points scoring mark for England for Jonny Wilkinson whose stock just continues to rise.
In the end there was little in the way of a down side for England but it should be remembered that the French deservedly won the first half 13-16 before the home side found its fluency.
Debutant Steve Borthwick will be disappointed after spending most of the game in the blood bin while Martin Corry took his place and the Twickenham crowd went home still awaiting that first try from Jason Robinson.
But Richard Hill, the man of the match, will be delighted with a storming all round performance, including a 35 metres second half try as the English out Frenched the French and turned on the style in a superb second period.
The first score of the game, on five minutes, came thanks to some menacing wing play from England's flank forward Hill who chased down an Austin Healey kick to the corner flag forcing the covering French defender to hack the ball dead.
From the ensuing scrum Healey was again involved in a crisp back line move that saw Will Greenwood gratefully charge through the largest of openings in the French backs' defensive line to dive over for the converted try.
Six minutes later Wilkinson added a penalty that took him to within two points of his great mentor and club boss, Rob Andrew's, England record and all was going to plan, but France's response incisive was almost immediate.
Having won the kick off the French spun the ball quickly right and simply won the numbers game in the backs. With England's last man, Iain Balshaw, committed by Jean-Luc Sardourny, Philippe Bernat-Salles rounded off the move with ease to maintain his impressive scoring record this championship.
The French backs were starting to look very dangerous, particularly the two centres Stephane Glas and Xavier Garbajosa and with fullback Sardourny entering the line intelligently and at pace it was England's defence down the right flank was tested next.
Hill was found wanting in the backline and Christophe Dominci slipped Healey to hair off down the wing only to be tackled to touch thanks to a combined effort from Matt Dawson and Balshaw.
But again this was a sign of things to come and after Wilkinson had missed a penalty attempt to take him past Andrew's record with a poorly hit kick, Garbojosa was this time breaking the England tackles and releasing Dominici who, with only Balshaw to beat pinned his ears back and went for the corner flag.
The touch judge had apparently seen nothing wrong with the score but the referee went to the video and the evidence proved that a flag should really have gone up to indicate that the French wing man had put a foot in touch just as he dove over the line.
England then tried to play their way out of trouble but dropped balls in close and in open play suggested the fluency was not quite there. One sparkling moment before France's disallowed try came from Wilkinson who broke from half way to the French 22 indicated there was more to come but the error rate at the break down was far too high.
The first half scoring was completed with three Merceron penalties and a Wilkinson penalty goal, that record was now his, and the visitors went into the half time break with a well deserved, if slender lead.
But the England that emerged for the second half was an entirely different beast, just as ambitious but snappier, more focused and, well, just better. It was the monumental burst from Hill who thundered 35 metres to the line set them on their way. Needless to say Wilkinson converted, in fact he was to convert all of England's five second half tries.
Balshaw was the next to grab the glory after England kept possession wearing down the French resistance until a classic outflanking manoeuvre left Balshaw with little option but to score.
Then, after the introduction of Robinson, Phil Greening was the beneficiary of some excellent work down the right by the former Wigan rugby league man who beat his marker and drove at Sardourny before flicking a pass off the floor to the onrushing Greening.
That prompted an amazing period of breathless rugby from both sides. The French were trying their best to rise to the standard set by the English, particularly through scrum half Fabien Galthie, Glas and Olivier Magne but the end product just evaded them and England were able to counter as the game opened up.
At the end five players were left collapsed on the Twickenham turf, most worryingly Wilkinson with what looked like a recurrence of his shoulder injury, but most were down thanks to a combination of injury and exhaustion but all thankfully struggled to their feet and resumed play.
The England scoring was completed with a cheeky effort from Mike Catt who raced on to an overhead chip by Healey playing at scrum half at the base of the ruck and a try from Matt Perry with just about his first touch of the ball.
At the end of the game it was announced that at Aintree the 33-1 outsider Red Marauder had won the Grand National, in Twickenham it was a team of white marauders that won the day on much shorter odds.
As Ray McLoughlin prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday, Huw Richards pays tribute to the man and the selectors who had the wisdom to bring him into the Ireland fold
John Taylor argues the world's best XVs players must be given a chance to play in the Olympics to increase the appeal of the game
The All Blacks' form is not a peaking issue, but Hansen must threaten to wield his axe, to demand improvement, Craig Dowd writes
"It has been the World Cup that smashed down the gender barriers of the sport." Tom Hamilton looks back at a remarkable tournament