French renaissance ends England

Date published: October 8 2011

France bounced back from last week's humiliation to stun England at Eden Park, winning 19-12 to advance to the semi-finals.

France bounced back from last week's humiliation to stun England at Eden Park, winning 19-12 to advance to the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-finals.

England were second best as they could not make it three finals in a row, while les Bleus deservedly march on to face Wales next week.

First-half tries from Vincent Clerc and Maxime Medard ultimately gave France a 16-0 cushion that England could not claw their way back from.

Going into the game, Jonny Wilkinson was hovering on a dismal 45 per cent tournament kicking record while Toby Flood had kicked 62.5 per cent. In stark comparison, France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili was considered a sharp shooter at 81.25 in conditions that went against the initial forecast. Statistics would not matter though at Eden Park as neither Flood nor Wilkinson were given an opportunity to improve their averages during the whole 40 minutes of the first period.

In fact – as these midweek subplots have a way of working out – Wilkinson was afforded just a single attempt at goal during his 65 minutes on the field.

A great deal had been made of Martin Johnson's decision to employ Flood outside Wilkinson, with many predicting a kicking style from the team in white. But in fact it was the distribution the Tiger offered that was apparent for the 2003 champions as Flood showed a longer, flatter pass that allowed outside centre Manu Tuilagi and full-back Ben Foden to hit the line in the same fashion Chris Ashton did against Scotland the week previously.

But like England's backline, this was not the same France that fell to Tonga as passes went to hand, running lines were excellent and more importantly, they were putting points on the board. Two successful attempts from Biarritz's Yachvili pushed them 6-0 ahead in a frantic opening seventeen minutes.

Yachvili did have the opportunity to extend the lead before the quarter but drifted his third shot to the right of the uprights. France might not have cared in truth as they were controlling all facets of play. Two scrum penalties, ample territory and also heaps of possession were the catalysts to their march while England were not helping themselves in losing three early line-outs, which ultimately came back to haunt them when Toulouse's Clerc sliced down the left wing, brushing off the attempted last-ditch tackle of Foden to score in the corner.

Slowly but surely England were managing to get themselves a foothold in the game though, with the 11-0 score not looking too daunting for a side that had shown they were more than capable of coming from behind in this World Cup. A mini period of possession in French territory gave them hope but then came the moment that made Marc Lievremont stand up and applaud. A rumble through the heart of England's tight five was duly shifted left where superb work by winger Alexis Palisson drew three tacklers before he handed the ball back inside to grateful recipient Medard. 16-0 and England were well-and-truly on the rack.

Some home truths were needed at half-time or England would be going home. Graham Rowntree had to work some of the magic that halted Euan Murray while Brian Smith was required to instill a cutting edge in the backs instead of just nice passing. Neither were achieved for the opening fifteen minutes as Johnson threw on trio Courtney Lawes, Simon Shaw and Alex Corbisiero for Tom Croft, Louis Deacon and Matt Stevens respectively.

But then arrived the moment the majority of the largely-filled stadium had been waiting for as a sustained passage of play, which was sparked by scrum-half Ben Youngs' quick tap, saw Shaw involved before Foden cut a line to go in under the posts. Wilkinson's extras made it 16-7 with ample time to go.

Cue the French offending, with referee Steve Walsh having words with skipper Thierry Dusautoir after an English jumper was handled in the air. The looming question was whether les Bleus would begin to capitulate or not? They did not and swiftly set about attempting to strike back, comforted by the knowledge that they were still two scores ahead of their rivals, who were ringing the changes by bringing off Youngs and captain Moody for James Haskell and Richard Wigglesworth. Even fly-half Wilkinson was cut from the action as Johnson looked to throw his kitchen sink of a replacements bench at France.

It proved fruitless before French substitute Francois Trinh-Duc did a Wilkinson on England by slotting a drop-goal that took the game beyond reach at 19-7. England did set up a grandstand finish when Mark Cueto was adjudged to have grounded the ball over the line after television match official approval, but it was all too little too late as France prevailed to set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash with Wales at the same venue next Saturday.

Man of the match: Plenty of heart was shown by France – even when the going was tough – and no one epitomised that more than Julien Bonnaire. The flank tackled all night for his country, putting in key hits to halt England gaining any sustainable momentum.

Moment of the match: The step and assist from Alexis Palisson. It was magic from the French winger as he set up Maxime Medard for a key score just after the half-hour mark.

Villain of the match: Scratch villain for disappointment. Large pockets of grey seats were evident at Eden Park as the quarter-final was not sold out.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries: Foden, Cueto
Con: Wilkinson

For France:
Tries: Clerc, Medard
Pens: Yachvili 2
Drop: Trinh-Duc

England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Matt Stevens.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Courtney Lawes, 19 Simon Shaw, 20 James Haskell, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Matt Banahan.

France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 David Marty, 22 Cédric Heymans.

Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland, George Clancy
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman

By Adam Kyriacou at Eden Park