England stroll to record victory

England 73 France 6
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The Independent Online
England chalked up a record-breaking victory in Gateshead last night to set up a European Championship decider against Wales in Cardiff later this month, but they had only the burnt-out shell of a side to beat.

The shambolic conflict of commitments for France's leading players has brought most of them to their knees. It was exhausted opposition that England faced in the International Stadium and they did not even need to take all their chances or to play especially well at times in order to dominate them completely.

The main beneficiaries were Steve Prescott, an addition to the squad last week whose 22 points were a record for an England player against any opposition, and Martin Offiah, who scored four tries while treating the whole business as a less than deadly serious run-out.

The expected pattern was established early with Offiah going past a series of grasping hands after less than two minutes and Paul Newlove, Steve Blakeley, Prescott and Gary Connolly all adding further tries.

It was quickly developing into a miserable last night in a French jersey for their captain, Patrick Entat. He had announced before the game that he was retiring from international rugby.

Immediately before half-time, Entat lost the ball in a typically all- enveloping Connolly tackle and Offiah, after nonchalantly exploring a number of blind alleys, selected one that led to the try-line.

Offiah, who also landed a rare and whimsical drop goal, showed basketball skills to set up Connolly for the opening score of the second half, before Prescott also claimed a second try to go with his eventual tally of seven goals.

A ridiculous pass by the French New Zealander, Darren Adams, then gift- wrapped Offiah's hat-trick, before Jason Robinson, Newlove and Offiah, with his fourth, took England past their previous highest score against any other country. Paul Sculthorpe crowned a promising debut, in the loose forward shirt vacated when Andy Farrell failed a fitness test, by scoring after Chris Joynt scooped up Shaun Edwards kick.

France had their one cheerful moment when Eric Van Brussel accelerated to beat the English defence and touch down a kick through. Connolly then rounded off the scoring with his hat-trick try.

ENGLAND: Prescott (St Helens); Robinson (Wigan), Connolly (Wigan), Newlove (St Helens), Offiah (Wigan); Blakeley (Salford), Edwards (Wigan), Harrison (Halifax); Lawless (Sheffield), Broadbent (Sheffield), Joynt (St Helens), McNamara (Bradford), Sculthorpe (Warrington). Substitutes (all used): Calland (Bradford), Rowley (Halifax), Morley (Leeds), Molloy (Featherstone).

FRANCE (all Paris St-Germain unless stated): Lucchese, Bomati, Banquet, Garcia (Sheffield), Cervello, Devecchi, Entat, Boudebza (St Esteve), Torreilles, Teixido, Jampy, Cabestany, Pech. Substitutes (all used): Adams, Van Brussel, Besson (Villeneuve), Yaha.

Referee: B Harrigan (Aus).