England's tour de force

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The Independent Online
"I HAVE played and lost too many games for France when we ought to have won," the French captain, Philippe Saint-Andre, said before the match. This was not one of them. By the end, the body language left no doubt which players were on the end of an eight-game losing streak. Whatever the coming months may hold, the history of England's 1995 World Cup campaign should have a special paragraph for the two minutes between 3.02 and 3.04pm yesterday. This was the time in which Jack Rowell's team blended the best of the old with the promise of the new.

First, the forwards ravaged the spirit of the French pack with a 15-metre push which also clawed at the nerves of the blue backs as they stood in defensive formation, awaiting the inevitable. In this phase, the contribution of Tim Rodber and Dean Richards was colossal, elemental, irresistible - all those adjectives they attract every time they take the field in Rowell's power-packed back row.

Eventually the ball came back to Kyran Bracken, whose pass to Rob Andrew was swiftly transferred to Ben Clarke, the third member of the back-row triumvirate. Clarke - colossal, elemental, irresistible, and then some - charged to create a ruck on the French line, sucking in the cover before feeding Bracken.

The little scrum-half has a gift for energising the ball whenever it comes into his hands, and this time he flipped it outside with an extra snap. It met Jeremy Guscott, moving at top speed to swerve inside Philippe Sella, outside Christophe Deylaud and over the line for a majestic try.

This did not exactly crush the life out of France, but it came as the climax of a 30-minute England crescendo and there was an impressive inevitability about it. "We started slowly," Will Carling said afterwards. "It was almost like a game of chess. The two packs were testing each other, looking for an advantage." After the move leading to Guscott's try, there was no longer any doubt where that advantage lay.

Pierre Berbizier admitted afterwards that his players had lost the crucial individual battles. "The English," he said, "respected their duties for the whole 80 minutes. The French did not." And yet after 50 minutes his team conjured a score which redeemed their reputation for improvisation and graced an afternoon on which Twickenham looked as green as Augusta National on an April evening.

Deep in his own half, Guy Accoceberry sent Saint-Andre on a looping run. A pass to Philippe Bernat-Salles, a kick ahead, a fingertip by Mike Catt, a catch by Bernat-Salles, quick transfers via Accoceberry and Laurent Cabannes to Sebastien Viars, and a brilliant incision through the remnants of the English cover. If it was not a try from the end of the world, such as Jean-Luc Sadourny scored against the All Blacks in Auckland last summer, then on this occasion a try from somewhere south of Isleworth would do.

It was also, even in defeat, a fine riposte to the stupidity of Brian Moore, whose pre-match remark that playing France is "like facing 15 Eric Cantonas - brilliant but brutal" should earn him an official rebuke. Moore needs every ounce of his aggressionon the pitch and yesterday he produced a performance which included two outstanding breaks with the ball in hand. But we have had enough of his crude verbals.

Jack Rowell later counselled against an excess of euphoria, describing the victory as "a good springboard", but criticising his team for "going off the boil at the line-out and getting into a bit of a trough at times. But when we got the ball in a striking position, we were able to score". This England are good enough to be above cheap psychological warfare.