Rugby Union: Back at front to deny French

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England A. . . .29

France B. . . . 17

ENGLAND B have become England A but, wherever they are in the alphabet, they are much the same thing and last night they performed with much the same impressive aplomb as their highly successful predecessors. The auld alliance failed France when a referee from Edinburgh left them cursing the mystery of rugby's English-speaking peoples.

It would be hard to imagine either a Scot or anyone called Bacigalupo being part of the Anglo-Saxon refereeing conspiracy the French believe is aimed against them. But this referee did France so few favours that finally a member of the 10,000 crowd yelled: 'Can we have you every week, ref?'

This followed two lost tries which had the French stamping in frustration. A magnificent move, of which they looked capable whenever they moved the ball, put Philippe Bernat-Salles clear but Alain Penaud's alleged obstruction ruled out an apparently perfect try.

Then Penaud and Michel Marfaing combined to send Leon Loppy on a drive for the line but the Frenchmen's dance of delight was halted when he was ruled to have failed to touch down. These were circumstances in which French teams have been known to crack but instead they gritted their teeth and it was England who cracked on the wide outside as David Berty scored the game's first try after 28 minutes.

It could have been more, even without Mr Bacigalupo. A try by Guy Accoceberry was prevented by a last-ditch Neil Back tackle, a poignant reminder of the Leicester flanker's defensive capability remembering his rejection of a place in the higher England squad. Leicester were playing Bedford last night but even so most of those at Welford Road had come to cheer Back and he gave them every opportunity.

Indeed the England pack as a whole had begun brightly, strong as they were at close quarters, but the ball they won brought no more than an early Paul Challinor penalty and eventually this was cancelled out by a gigantic penalty by Olivier Campan, using the howling gale from five yards inside his own half. The full-back's mighty right boot also converted Berty's try from the touchline.

Upwind England had escaped remarkably unscathed given the chances France created and the danger they posed whenever Alain Penaud, the senior stand-off as recently as the South Africa Tests in the autumn, launched his backs. Downwind England scored very smartly, though again it was the French who created the try.

When Campan tried to chip past Tony Underwood he succeeded only in bouncing it off the wing, who had a second favourable bounce off the ground before accelerating away from 40 yards. Challinor could not convert and also missed a drop-shot but his penalty-kicking ambition was no less than Campan's and when he put one over from 60 yards England led again with 25 minutes to go.

In view of France's counter-attacking propensity, England needed to keep the pressure on and this they did through two more Challinor penalties and in an exhilarating climax tries by Harvey Thorneycroft and Damian Hopley which brought the house down and rendered immaterial one by Penaud in injury time.

England: Tries Underwood, Thorneycroft, Hopley; Conversions Challinor 2; Penalties Challinor 4. France: Tries Berty, Penaud; Conversions Campan 2; Penalty Campan.

ENGLAND A: A Buzza (Wasps); T Underwood (Leicester), D Hopley (Wasps), J Buckton (Saracens), H Thorneycroft (Northampton); P Challinor (Harlequins), M Dawson (Northampton); M Hynes (Orrell), K Dunn (Wasps), A Mullins (Harlequins), D Ryan (Wasps), A Blackmore (Bristol), J Hall (capt), S Ojomoh (Bath), N Back (Leicester).

FRANCE B: O Campan (Agen); P Bernat-Salles (Pau), H Couffignal (Colomiers), M Marfaing, D Berty (Toulouse); A Penaud (Brive), G Accoceberry (Tyrosse, capt); L Benezech (Racing Club), E Dasalmartini (Toulon), L Verge (Begles), Y Lemeur (Racing Club), H Chaffardon (Grenoble), L Loppy (Toulon), J-J Alibert (Begles), J-M Lhermet (Montferrand).

Referee: J Bacigalupo (Scotland).

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