French appear an age ahead of England's hapless juniors

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England Under-21 3 France Under-21 40

There was no great surprise that England's rising generation should have fallen so heavily at Bath last night, easily their worst defeat at this level.writes. What could you expect when fielding two First Division regulars against opposition stacked with veterans - that's what some of them looked like - from the French First Division?

On the other hand, Clive Woodward and Andy Robinson, the new Under-21 coaches, would have preferred something better in applying the basic skills. England's forwards, and the backs for that matter, turned over hard-won possession more often than was decent, thereby accurately reflecting the physical disparity.

This was England's first under-21 match since they narrowly beat the Scots in December, having previously lost to the Irish, and their lack of mutual familiarity was all too evident. But for the hallowed tradition on these occasions of the French infringing themselves almost out of the game, it would have been much, much worse.

The performance of Nigel Whitehouse, the referee from Swansea, was being assessed by Clive Norling, and it is impossible to imagine that under Norling's tutelage any game would have been so constantly whistled. The penalty count ended at 30-5. In England's favour.

One of the 30 provided them with the opening penalty by Matthew Jones after six minutes, but for the remaining 74 a nice combination of French power and pace held sway. David Gabin picked up and drove over from a five-yard scrum and added the second try when Tim Robinson spilled a high ball as the prelude to sleight-of-hand between Jechoux, Bory and Lazerges on his behalf.

After a hiatus in the third quarter, Mathieu Lazerges went 90 yards for his try after being conveniently presented with the ball by Alex Bennett and the threequarters combined sweetly for Nicolas Nadau. David Bory scored the next when England yet again lost the ball in defence, and finally a sliced French clearance kick fell perfectly for Ludovic Saunier with 90 yards and no defenders ahead of him.

England: Penalty M Jones. France: Tries Gabin 2, Lazerges, Nadau, Bory, Saunier; Conversions Bruzy 2. Penalties: Bruzy 2.

ENGLAND UNDER-21: T Robinson (Scunthorpe); D Luger (Orrell), F Waters (Bath), M Denney (Bristol, capt), S Jones (West Hartlepool); M Jones (Leicester), S Benton; T Woodman (Gloucester), N McCarthy (Bath), A Collins (Swansea University), N Fletcher (Moseley), B Kay (Waterloo), E Pearce (Bath), A Bennett (Orrell), G Jones (Leicester). Replacement: S Martin (Bristol) for M Jones, 61.

FRANCE UNDER-21: N Nadau (Paris University); L Saunier (Bourgoin), S Roque (Colomiers), Y Bohu (Paris University), D Bory (Montferrand); N Bruzy (Perpignan), M Lazerges (Castres); S Marconnet (Grenoble), J-Y Duhart (Lourdes), W Begarry (Toulouse), D Barrier (Montferrand), D Couzinet (Toulouse), M Lievremont (Argeles), D Gabin (Montferrand), R Jechoux (Racing Club, capt). Replacements: F Bassaber (Lourdes) for Gabin, 55; L Guntert (Mandelieu), 85. Temporary substitute: J-M Bertrand (Argeles) for Duhart, 48-50.

Referee: N Whitehouse (Wales).