England down France in dour clash
February 19, 2000
Lawrence Dallaglio rumbles forward in Paris
© Getty Images
Rarely can an France v England encounter have been so disappointing for the neutral spectator. The game was high on effort but a little short of genuine excitement and skills. The fact that, for the first time since goodness knows when, the match was devoid of a try speaks volunes for the entertainment that was on offer.
Only in the final ten minutes did the game match the hype when England survived being repeatedly hit with French kitchen sinks as Les Bleus chased a match they had seemed strangely lethargic about for most of the time.
Not that England will care one jot. They came here to win and did exactly that to show just what could have been with some better decision making in the World Cup. The forward effort was immense as they not only halted the juggernaut French pack but so resolute was the thin white line that the French backs were repeatedly forced to kick away prized possession. Didn't they watch England's quarter-final against the Springboks?
Thomas Castaignede's kickoff carried a little too far for France to generate any early pressure. In constant drizzle both sides struggled with the greasy ball and any attempts at multi-phase rugby was going to prove a challenge.
England actually enjoyed the better start especially after a David Venditti spill allowed Austin Healey to hack ahead and France were grateful to Fabien Galthie for the cover he provided. England quickly realised that France were defending flat but shallow, and failing to put men behind the breakdown. England had plenty of ball themselves as Richard Dourthe was guilty of kicking them the ball at every opportunity not to mention a 15 yard knock on.
Jonny Wilkinson had already kicked a tricky three points after Marc dal Maso found himself several yards offside, when he doubled the lead from the same spot after the entire French backline were judged offside.
In between these kicks Healey had ignored the chance of a glorious touchdown. After making an electrifying break up the middle of the park and with only Dourthe to beat, the winger chose to keep the ball, much to Phil Greening's disgust as he was perched on his winger's shoulder.
England's forwards showed admirable grunt when they withstood a French maul on their own line, but they survived an even bigger scare just moments later. The French forwards raised a good head of steam with Legi Matiu in the van. Speedster Christophe Dominici, presumably cold and bored on his left wing, stepped in as acting scrumhalf and beat several England tackles before lauching Thomas Lombard accross the line. Matt Dawson was relieved to see Referee Dickinson rule the pass forward as the England skipper was as guilty as anyone.
Rather than France hitting the comeback trail it was Wilkinson who hit his third penalty after Brouzet had seen the yellow card for a tripping offence, again from his favourite spot 15 yards in on the ten metre line.
Perhaps the English are more used to the slippery conditions but poor handling by the French came to the visitors' rescue on several occasions. Galthie, Benazzi and Dominici were all guilty. What's more the English were chasing Wilkinson's searching kicks with greater enthusiasm than the French defence. Perhaps they left their puff on the training field but Les Bleus were looking red in the face during any extended passage of play.
At 0-9 down France desperately needed a score to get themselves back into this match but it was Wilkinson who had the last chance of the half, this time proving himself mortal by missing his fourth penalty attempt. However the flyhalf is more than a one-trick pony as Emile N'Tamack will confirm... if he can ever remember much about the crunching tackle he suffered from England's flyhalf.
The all whites showed the benefits of all the blackboard sessions when Ben Cohen caught Wilkinson's kick which started the second half. However if France were to make a match of this they would have to score first and Dourthe duly obliged with a fourth minute penalty after England's forwards had strayed offside.
After one miss Dourthe pulled back another three points as an England hand prevented Dominici from releasing the ball. Game on.
Two penalties in succession allowed Wilkinson to give England a little breathing space. With the first he found touch and with the second he found the posts although it was not obvious what the infringement was but England was not arguing. They had the initiative again.
A leg injury to Matt Perry gave his Bath colleague Iain Balshaw a first cap while France brought on Thomas Lievremont and Serge Betsen in an effort to save the game. Unfortunatley Cameroon-born Betsen preferred to throw it away. He had scarcely been on the pitch for five minutes when he was shown a yellow card for killing the ball. Wilkinson made it 15-6 in the visitors favour with 15 minutes to play.
Dourthe landed another penalty on the 30 minute mark and then slipped and fell while attempting another shortly after; a moment either comic or tragic depending upon bias. With Betson resored and Shaw doing porridge in the sinbin, the final five minutes of the match held more excitement that the first seventy five in total.
Firstly the French forwards dropped the ball in a rolling maul headed for the line, then hooker Ibanez was stopped inches from the right-hand corner after the fullback ignored the support outside him. Dallaglio dived over that maul to prevent release but it was Healey who joined Archer in the sin bin.
Two short penalties saw the French over the English line but somehow substitute Martin Corry got his body under the ball. Two scrums saw English front row stood up under pressure but only the French were penalised.
Eventually Dallaglio and Back pulled down a French maul rather than award the penalty the referee gave a scrum to the visitors and the English were eventually able to clear their lines for a well-deserved win.