Rugby World Cup 2011: Ruthless France beat England
A second-half comeback was not enough as England went out in the quarter-finals in New Zealand
A rampant French team defied pre-match predictions to overwhelm an under-par England and book a date with Wales in the World Cup semi-finals.
An inspirational defensive performance laid the platform for Marc Lievremont’s men to hold off a late England onslaught after they had produced a blistering start to take the initiative.
Pre-match talk had centred on French disarray but it was they who exploded out of the blocks. England may have looked dangerous themselves, with Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson combining well, but the French response was immediate and lethal.
From a solid set-piece platform, France drove deep into English territory. Fly-half Morgan Parra initially seemed intent on kicking away possession, but soon Dimitri Yachvili put France ahead when he kicked a penalty after Flood had held on following a tackle.
A tumultuous England were clearly rattled and gaps were opening up in their defence. The French missed two overlaps before Yachvili kicked another penalty when prop Matt Stevens was penalised at the scrum. The scrum half missed a chance to put them further ahead but this was forgotten when wing Vincent Clerc struck.
Receiving the ball faced with Wilkinson, the Toulouse wing brushed off the fly-half on the outside before wrong-footing a hapless Ben Foden to score. Yachvili missed the conversion but the French lead now stretched into double figures.
England hit back through a strong Manu Tuilagi break but attacks were consistently punctuated with handling errors.
An increasingly porous English defence was then exposed again as winger Alexis Palisson dragged three tacklers out-of-position before offloading to send Maxime Medard over to increase France’s ominous lead going into half-time.
Knowing their World Cup hopes were quickly disintegrating, England began the second half stronger though were let down by handling errors in the face of strong French defence, with Julien Bonnaire particularly prominent.
The wall of French players held firm until Foden finally went over following good work by Youngs. The Leicester scrum-half showed urgency when taking a penalty quickly and, after good recycling, Foden cut inside two would-be tacklers to go over.
Martin Johnson sought power up-front and turned to Courtney Lawes and Simon Shaw from the bench to provide bulk in the pack. But a fast-maturing French side duly called on fly half Francois Trinh-Duc who proceeded to pen England back in their own half as they sought a crucial try.
The French kept England close to their own line before an English knock-on left the fly half with an easy drop-goal opportunity from the scrum to give France some breathing space.
However, England were not yet finished. The men in white laid siege to the French line and wing Mark Cueto wrestled past the attention of Clerc to dot down, confirmed after strong deliberation from the television match official.
Flood, now playing at fly half following Wilkinson’s withdrawal, missed the conversion but England were fully aware of the need for another try to stand any chance in this match.
As England’s battle against the clock wilted, so too did their hopes.
A late penalty gifted Trinh-Duc with another scoring opportunity as the game ran into injury-time.
The kick, unsuccessful as it was, was swiftly followed by Steve Walsh’s final whistle to send Les Bleus into raptures and break their recent curse over England in the tournament.
England: Foden, Ashton, Tuilagi, Flood, Cueto, Wilkinson, Youngs, Stevens, Thompson, Cole, Deacon, Palmer, Croft, Moody, Easter.
Replacements: Wigglesworth for Wilkinson (65), Banahan for Youngs (65), Corbisiero for Stevens (49), Hartley for Thompson (56), Shaw for Deacon (49), Lawes for Croft (46), Haskell for Moody (63).
France: Medard, Clerc, Rougerie, Mermoz, Palisson, Parra, Yachvili, Poux, Servat, Mas, Pape, Nallet, Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy.
Replacements: Marty for Rougerie (68), Trinh-Duc for Yachvili (53), Barcella for Poux (56), Szarzewski for Servat (56), Pierre for Pape (65), Picamoles for Harinordoquy (72).