France fire at last

17th Sep 2007, 11:54


Lionel Nallet goes over for his first try

Lionel Nallet goes over for his first try

France are back on song in the World Cup, making amends for their opening night loss with a 87-10 demolition of Namibia on Sunday.

France are back on song in the World Cup, making amends for their opening night loss with a 87-10 demolition of Namibia on Sunday.

What a turn up for the books! Here, finally, was an established side making mince meat out of a school of minnows - and how the French needed this fillip.

It seems like a year since last Friday, but not for France. Les Bleus had been accused of "betraying" the nation following the loss to Argentina on the opening night of the World Cup.

They duly removed themselves from the spotlight and went into hiding to brood and plot revenge on all comers, and Namibia bore the brunt of their pent-up aggression.

This was a very different French side to the one that froze in Paris last week. Gone were the nerves, replaced by confidence, hunger, steel and straight running.

France's forwards, relentless in attack and defence, built a solid platform on which the likes of Vincent Clerc, David Marty and Cédric Heymans danced a merry jig.

The Toulouse connection worked well: pulling the strings were local heroes Frédéric Michalak, sporting an odd shaven corn-row hairdo, and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde.

The big win will serve to exorcise the Argentine demons, but one question remains: did Bernard Laporte pick the right team for that opening game? France's future minister for sport might yet need the help of a spin doctor or two.

France exploded out of the blocks, attacking the Namibians on the hoof, eager to expunge their sins through speed of thought and limb. Running away from their problems, if you will.

Heymans, back in his familiar position on the wing and clearly loving life, soon opened the scoring by dotting down in the corner after a rapier-like raid opened a narrow gap on the short side.

A rare foray into French territory then allowed Namibia fly-half Emile Wessels the time and inclination to drop a goal.

But France answered back brilliantly by scoring their second try after cutting Namibia's threadbare defence to smithereens in a break from their deep in their own half. It was Marty who finished off the move by choosing a sublime angle and fending off a top-heavy tackle before diving over the line.

Things then went bad to worse for the Namibians with Jacques Nieuwenhuis receiving a red card for a high tackle on Sébastien Chabal. It seemed that l'anesthésiste would need a hit of his own medicine, but the sight of his assailant leaving the field appeared to perk him up.

Critics of the World Cup's slight skew-wiff disciplinary policies might like to question the decision to permanently reduce Namibia to 14 men, but referee Alain Rolland had already had stern words with the hot-headed loose forward.

France took immediate advantage of their numerical advantage by releasing the brake on an unstoppable rolling maul, and Thierry Dusautoir was on hand to collect France's third try.

The hosts collected their bonus-point moments later via a fabulous break down the middle of the paddock. There was more than a hint of a forward pass, but the speed of the move blurred the infringement, and Lionel Nallet showed good speed in arriving to take the final pass.

Clerc then added his name by scoresheet by skirting round a very ragged defensive line after collected a deft mis-pass from Heymans.

With Michalak now able to feed his runners at will and according to his own preferences, Nallet was soon celebrating his second in the last move of the half.

What a difference a week makes! With the game all but won and with six tries under their belts, the French trooped off for the break to a standing ovation and with the stirring chimes of La Marseillaise ringing in their ears. The Namibians were out for the count and the Irish, France's next opponents, surely quivering behind the sofa at their hotel.

France kept their foot on the pedal in the second half, but some courageous defence from the men from south-west Africa kept the hosts almost honest.

The French were clearly wanting to flex each of their muscles for all the world to see, and the next score came from Julien Bonnaire on the tail of a push-over scrum.

The following ploy out of the bag was the cross-field kick, and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde's pin-point punt found Chabal, of all people, lurking in the corner, and Bratley Langenhoven was powerless to stop France's brand new folk hero.

The score only seemed to enrage the man with a thousand nicknames, and l'homme des cavernes was soon over the whitewash for his second after running in a try from his own half, using his pace and immense strength to power over the line.

Elissalde then chose to edge into the limelight, opting to open his try account by using slight of hand rather than monsterism.

Namibia were now in tatters and another flowing move was punctuated by another try from Clerc.

A 75-3 lead would prompt most teams to easy off in deference of battles to come. But France didn't want to just make their point, they were desperate to ram it down the optical nerves of the watching world.

And so the tries kept coming. Clerc completed his hat-trick before being denied his fourth by a questionable decision by Simon McDowell in the video suite.

Raphaël Ibañez came off the bench to claim France's 13th and final try and the massacre was complete.

But it was Namibia who had the last word after Langenhoven intercepted to score in the last move of the game; the sporting French public greeting the consolation prize with a hearty cheer.

So all eyes now turn to Friday's crunch encounter between the hosts and Ireland in Paris.

Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan said witnessing his side's ugly win over Georgia was akin to watching a "horror movie". He might be moved to compare this video nasty to being buried alive in a casket of rabid cockerels. Allez les Bleus - on this evidence they might yet go all the way.

Man of the match: There are so many contenders that we feel compelled to award a collective gone. If individuals must be name, we'll point to the contributions of Sébastien Chabal, Thierry Dusautoir, Frédéric Michalak, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde and Vincent Clerc. But just pipping the post is Cédric Heymans, who sent a message to his boss that simply read: 'I'm not a fullback, I'm a wing'!

Moment of the match: The standing ovation at the stoke of half-time told a story in itself, but how can we ignore Sébastien Chabal's 55-metre rampage that lead to his second try?

Villian of the match: We've seen worse tackles in the last week, but Jacques Nieuwenhuis deserves this hideous gong for failing to heed the warnings that preceded his red card.