Rugby Union: A is for abject

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The Independent Online
France A. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

England A. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8

ENGLAND'S second string cooked up an aperitif at Stade Jean Bouin, over the road from the Parc, that was enough to put you off the main course. France A have had almost as much trouble as France in beating England, yet this very ordinary French side had no trouble whatsoever.

Only when the French were 17 points ahead and beyond recall did England rouse from their lassitude. As this was a ground where their predecessors had never lost, their display was not only bad but baffling.

If the French had chosen to open out instead of relying so heavily on the booming boot of their stand-off, Gerard Merceron, it would probably have been worse. Instead Frederique Velo scored their only try, pedalling hard to evade the English cover after an unusually pleasant burst of handling.

For the most part England's defence was resolute and they had a refereeing friend in David Leslie, whose penalty decisions dealt them a disproportionate 20-5. They also shaded the line- out but they did even less with their possession than France. By the time Neil Back, combining with Bates, Challinor and Mallett, scored his try the match was almost over.

It was a dismal ending to a relentessly modest season for the As, who also lost to New Zealand and did not impress in beating Italy and Ireland. 'It was very sloppy,' Jack Rowell, the England A manager, gloomily commented.

Back's presence, together with those of Jon Callard, Tony Underwood and Martin Bayfield, was a reminder of England's defeat by Ireland and, though Back was the main reason the A team had any semblance of continuity, none of the four made a case for an instant senior recall. When Bayfield hobbled off after an hour with a hamstring injury, his pain-stricken face somehow said it all.

France A: Try Velo; Penalties Labit 3; Drop goals Macabiau 2. England A: Try Back; Penalty Callard.

FRANCE A: L Labit (Castres); S Viars (Brive), F Velo (Grenoble), Y Delaigue (Toulon), L Leflamand (Lyon); G Merceron (Toulon), A Macabiau (Perpignan, capt); E Menieu (Montferrand), M de Rougemont (Toulon), S Graou (Auch), O Brouzet (Grenoble), F Pelous (Graulhet), M Lievremont (Perpignan), X Blond (Racing Club), C Moni (Nice).

ENGLAND A: J Callard (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), D Hopley (Wasps), S Potter (Leicester), N Beal (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), S Bates; G Holmes, K Dunn (Wasps), J Mallett (Bath), M Bayfield (Northampton), A Blackmore (Bristol), M Greenwood (Wasps), A Diprose (Saracens), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: P Hull (Bristol) for Potter, 59; L Dallaglio (Wasps) for Bayfield, 60; D Garforth (Leicester) for Holmes, 63.

Referee: D Leslie (Scotland).