Lacroix kicks out the Irish

Rugby Union: World Cup; France 36Ireland12 Tries: Saint-Andre 78Tries: N'Tamack 80 Con:Lacroix 78Con: Pen:Lacroix 7, 19, 30, 40Pen: Elwood 3, 15, 21, 39 50, 51, 72, 74
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The Independent Online
EVEN though 47 points were scored, this was no feast of rugby. The final tally was distorted by two late French tries, but the poverty of the European game was all too evident throughout, with the cynical concession of penalties to save tries a particular blight on the landscape.

If the last two representatives of the home unions, England and Scotland, lose today against Australia and New Zealand, which is surely on the cards, then perhaps that will precipitate much-needed self-analysis in the northern hemisphere and maybe prompt a new approach to the way we play the game.

The French players had been complaining all week that Pierre Berbizier, their coach, had been working them too hard in training and, judging by their lack of energy and vitality yesterday, there appeared to some substance to their gripes. Certainly, France did not yesterday look like a team capable of winning the World Cup. The Irish, for their part, had no pretensions of going all the way and never remotely looked like progressing any further than the last eight.

Nevertheless, Ireland stuck firmly to their familiar battle plan of launching an early blitzkrieg of garryowens and piling in with determination and spirit. So far, only the All Blacks had weathered this particular storm, but the French remained patient and exchanged penalty for penalty and added a few extra for luck before drawing away in the last quarter.

But France, for all their overwhelming possession in the line-outs and the loose, were never able to unleash any concerted running attack as the Irish spoilt unmercifully. The French half-backs - Christophe Deylaud in particular - were poor, prompting the manager Guy Laporte to criticise the link between the forwards and the three-quarters.

Only in the closing minutes did the French score a couple of tries to restore some confidence for their semi-final with South Africa next Saturday.

The French forwards were always in control and the pressure they put on Ireland forced a host of penalties, and Thierry Lacroix was at his most deadly, kicking eight of them before Philippe Saint-Andre and Emile N'Tamack breached a hard-pressed defence in the dying minutes.

After the match, Pierre Berbizier, the French coach, said: "Our forwards are getting better. Today we drove with our heads down and we won a lot of ruck ball. The semi-final will not be easy but history proves that France succeed better against southern-hemisphere teams and we have improved so much since the opening game."

When he was asked why they had not been able to score a try until the 79th minute of their last two games, Berbizier replied "We are not far away from thinking that the French can drink champagne again. At the moment, we are just struggling to get the cork out of the bottle."

The Irish had the fillip of an early lead when Abdelatif Benazzi was penalised for a shove in the line-out and Eric Elwood slotted a penalty. This was quickly cancelled by the first penalty by Lacroix when Paddy Johns was offside and the two kickers exchanged penalties in ping-pong fashion with both slotting four out of four to make it 12-12 at half-time.

Thus far, the game was one of the most boring yet of the tournament, for seldom has there been a game with so little incident and without a flash of rugby as it stumbled from error to ineptness and back again.

In the second half, the French pack stepped up the pace and it was Olivier Merle, of all people, who made their best running. From his second good run of the game the attack was stopped illegally and the penalty was kicked by Lacroix.

With France now winning overwhelming possession, the Irish defence began to crumble. The pressure brought two more penalties until, in the last minute, the French ended the try drought when Olivier Roumat charged and Deylaud popped the ball up for Saint-Andre to score. Lacroix converted for a personal tally of 26 points. In the fourth minute of injury time, France hammered home their supremacy when N'Tamack intercepted a pass by Brendan Mullin and raced some 95 yards to score and put us all out of our misery.

Ireland: C O'Shea (Lansdowne); S Geoghegan (Bath), B Mullin (Blackrock), J Bell (Ballymena), D O'Mahoney (Blackrock); E Elwood (Lansdowne); N Hogan (Terenure); N Popplewell (Wasps), T Kingston (Dolphin, capt), G Halpin (London Irish), G Fulcher (Cork Con), N Francis (Old Belvedere), D Corkery (Cork Con), D McBride (Malone), P Johns (Dungannon).

France: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E N'Tamack (Toulouse), P Sella (Agen); T Lacroix (Dax); P Saint-Andre, Capt (Mont Ferrand); C Deylaud (Toulouse), A Hueber (Toulon); L Cabannes (Racing Club); M Cecillon (Bourgoin), A Benazzi (Agen), O Romant (Dax), O Merle (Mont Ferrand); C Califano (Toulouse), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), L Armary (Lourdes).

Referee: Mr E Morrison (England).