ENGLAND will care little that it has been the closeness of the results rather than the quality of their play which has quickened the pulse and sustained their season. Still less will they mind that they have played another match without scoring a try.
They extended their remarkable winning sequence over the French in Paris to four matches and in doing so Rob Andrew wrote another incredible chapter in the pages of his international career. The kicking leg which he had swung so convulsively against Ireland a fortnight ago was yesterday the sweetest of instruments.
Not content with scoring all England's points from five soaring penalties and a majestic drop goal, he broke France's rising spirits in the second half with one exquisitely placed kick which rolled into touch a couple of yards from the French line. This, perhaps more than any single act in the game, brought the French to their knees although, heaven knows, they worked hard enough on that themselves.
If this was a tour de force by Andrew, showing the steel beneath that boyish exterior, it was also an occasion when England were buttressed by their discipline, their line-out, and during the height of France's second-half assault, the relentless presence of their back row, in which Ben Clarke again proved his value. And David Pears, on the ground which was a graveyard for English full- backs during the Seventies, has surely given birth to a career as an international full-back. He was composed and assured despite a torrid examination under the high ball.
At the end of a turbulent week one had expected a grim game from England, but not from France. Especially not with the sun burning on to their backs and the drums beating in their ears. But this was a day when Gallic flair was wrecked by the folly of their decision makers. Alain Penaud and Fabien Galthie botched so many promising moves that they cannot expect selectorial mercy.
Their inability to put their runners into space to build up the momentum upon which forwards depend was glaring from first to last and their uncertainty spread throughout the team. Not only that, but when the situation demanded that France keep the ball in play, Penaud worked the touchline. Invariably his forwards would then lose possession at the line-out. It was suicidal.
There was also the curse which tends to accompany French teams on whatever field they perform - indiscipline. A very different story from England who, when the pressure was building to its height in the first half, surrendered not one penalty within Thierry Lacroix's range. Indeed it was not until five minutes into the second half that they conceded the first kickable penalty when Victor Ubogu was offside. Crucially, Lacroix missed with two relatively simple kicks later in the game, which would have been fair reward for his side's massive territorial advantage.
Andrew, on the other hand, turned the game England's way at the end of the first half when he was presented with three penalties in almost as many minutes and converted two of them. This gave England a nine-point half-time lead, which Andrew promptly extended with a marvellous drop goal.
There were times during the blistering final quarter when it seemed that England's lead would not be enough. Lacroix kicked his first penalty and then Penaud launched one of his few well-judged kicks into England's 22. Rory Underwood was underneath it but Philippe Sella plucked it from his grasp and, almost in the same movement, fed Philippe Saint-
Andre. The move was halted, but with the French backs backed steeply to his left Galthie stole round the blind side and Abdel Benazzi, working within the tightest of margins, stretched over. Perversely, the ball toppled over as Lacroix ran up for the conversion, and the referee, Stephen Hilditch ruled against a retake.
Lacroix brought France to within a point with his second penalty as England began to betray signs of panic and the French at last began to establish a rhythm and pattern.
But it was their own indiscipline which scuppered France. Their blatant disregard for the laws as they piled over the top of rucks was not unnoticed by the referee and neither did it go unpunished. The French, of all people, should know that Mr Hilditch is not a soft touch. Andrew kicked two more beautifully grooved penalties to keep England ahead. The victory was magnificent in its way but once again the beauty of the game has been sacrificed for the beastly business of winning.
France: Try Benazzi; Penalties Lacroix 3.
England: Penalties Andrew 5; Drop goal Andrew.
FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); W Techoueyres (Bordeaux Univ), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand); A Penaud (Brive), F Galthie (Colomiers); L Benezech (Racing Club), J- M Gonzales (Bayonne), P Gallart (Beziers), O Merle (Grenoble), O Roumat (Dax, capt), A Benazzi (Agen), P Benetton (Agen), L Cabannes (Racing Club).
ENGLAND: D Pears (Harlequins); I Hunter (Northampton), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), P de Glanville (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), N Redman (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), T Rodber (Northampton), S Ojomoh (Bath), B Clarke (Bath).
Referee: S Hilditch (Ireland).
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