Saturday, February 23, 2008

England Turn Over France

Six Nations Game 9 - France vs England (13-24)

England got the perfect start, despite France running the ball. In the first five minutes, Jamie Noon put a huge hit on C├ędric Heymans who spilled the ball. Paul Sackey [right] was on hand to chase the loose ball, chip ahead and fall on the ball over the line. Jonny Wilkinson added the extras to take a 0-7 lead.

The French then gave away silly penalties, and Jonny kicked another three points for 0-10 after 15 minutes. Damien Traille had the opportunity to claw back 3 after an England infringement but he pulled it wide.

James Haskell had to retire with an ankle injury, on came Tom Croft for his first cap. England's lineout was looking a bit shakey with overthrows, some of which were tidied up by white shirts, some blue.

At 25 minutes, Sackey was pinged for going in from the side of a ruck, Damien Traille's [left] boot downfield was huge, France's lineout was solid and the team worked a good pushover try to the right of the posts. Traille's conversion was on song this time, pulling back to 7-10.

The French were caught offside close to the half hour; Jonny attempted a penalty from way out wide and it sailed plumb through the middle, making it 13-7. Just after the half hour, England won a lineout close to the French line. A ruck was set up, England had to inch their way up the pitch. But then France got a penalty, white hands not releasing the ball.

Ian Balshaw missed a huge kick from the French, Paul Sackey covering the mistake. Brian Moore's classic comment on the TV commentary: "he was so far away from it, he might as well have been in Croydon"! Quite.

On 35 minutes, England gave away another penalty in their own half; Traille's kick rebounded off the woodwork to give England a 22m dropout. With minutes to go before half time, England were back in the French half. Several phases of play took them across field and up to the 22, but Tom Croft knocked on. The scrum was a bit of a mess, but then the whistle went for half time.

A great first half, all the English supporters were praying that the second half collapse wasn't going to happen again this week. There was more exciting action from both sides, but no scores until Mark Regan [left] gave away a silly penalty: France's 19-year old Scrum Half Parra took the kick and it went straight over. Regan was immediately subbed by Lee Mears.

France were back in the game at 10-13, and looked to be playing the best rugby. Please not another England collapse...

At least Mearsey's first lineout was a goodun. Then France were penalised at an England scrum. Wilkinson's long-range attempt was pulled wide. He got another chance in the 58th minute, it was on target but too short.

England put a nice passage of play together, which hopefully steadied the nerves. Then they had a decent bit of field position and a lineout, the ball going to Jonny for a drop goal, making the score 10-16. Still a nervous time, with 16 minutes to go. The England scrum was demolishing their French counterparts. They won yet another penalty from it on the half way line. Wilko finally got the line and the length - and England pulled 9 points ahead, 10-19.

England gained possession at the restart, the English fans were Swinging Low and the French fans were relatively quiet. Then with 10 minutes to go, Sheridan was subbed for Matt Stevens. As the clock ticked on, I for one, was feeling rather nervous, hoping the boys could hang on to their lead for the last few minutes.

The 9 point lead was eroded to 6 when France won a penalty near the England 22. Dmitri Yachvili booted it over, 13-19 with 6 minutes to go. The restart was secured by France, but England kept defending and inching them towards the French line. Then the French knocked on giving England a 5m scrum. Les Bleus' scrum was still creaking.

England did the pick and drive, running down the clock, the war of attrition between white and blue. The forwards kept going, phase by phase. Hookers, props, second row, flankers all involved. Left, right, tick, tick, Richard Wigglesworth [right] wriggled over! I screamed. I hope the neighbours didn't mind. Jonny's kick finally sailed wide, but it didn't matter. 13-24, France turned over in their back yard by England again. Phew.

England's second half wobbled slightly during the first 20 minutes, but they settled and took the French apart. Wigglesworth had a cracking debut, looking sharp in all areas of his game. The English defence held firm. And thank God they kept up some decent play for the whole 80 minutes.

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