Rugby Union: Basic lesson for A team

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The Independent Online
France A. .20

England A. .8

WHATEVER passions are supposedly aroused on an enchanting spring morning in Paris, they were conspicuously absent from this English performance.

Not that it is always easy to find inspiration on a narrow pitch in front of a smattering of spectators who are filling time before the main event. But this was a pitiful display against a French side with little more to offer than the basic essentials of spirit and enthusiasm.

The limitations and structural decay revealed by the senior side at Twickenham a fortnight ago surfaced again yesterday.

A fractured line-out, which went from bad to worse, was eventually left without Martin Bayfield, who damaged a hamstring. He was one of three players who had to be replaced in the second half, Stuart Potter (shoulder) and Gary Holmes (cut head) being the others. But this could be offered neither as the reason nor as an excuse for England's abject failure.

There was only one shaft of brilliance to illuminate a thoroughly dismal game - the French try.

They moved the ball through half a dozen pairs of hands before Frederic Velo scored in the left-hand corner, the move having been initiated by the flanker Marc Lievremont on the right.

Earlier in the game, when England had made a rare stab at adventure, the neat midfield work of Potter and Neil Back had been wasted by Damien Hopley's failure to spot that Tony Underwood was unmarked outside him.

For the rest there was only barren inflexibility and aimless endeavour. France ran seldom and kicked a lot. At least they kicked well, none better than their full-back Laurent Labit, who succeeded with three penalties out of three attempts, the scrum-half Alain Macabiau, who dropped a couple of goals, both with vertical take-off from almost underneath the crossbar, and the stand-off Gerard Merceron, who has yet to be introduced to the pass but who time and again pushed England back into the corners.

Jon Callard's penalty at the start of the second half and Back's scrambled try at the end were more than England deserved in a performance which has advanced the reputation of few and may have irredeemably damaged the hopes of many.

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

FRANCE A: L Labit (Castres); S Viars (Brieve), F Velo (Grenoble), Y Delaigue (Toulon), L Leflamand (Lyon); G Merceron (Toulon), A Macabiau (Perpignon, capt); E Menieu (Montferand), M de Rougemont (Toulon), S Graou (Auch), O Broazet (Grenoble), F Pelous (Graulhet), M Lievremont (Perpignon), Z 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 (Wasps, capt); G Holmes (Wasps), 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 min; L Dallaglio (Wasps) for Bayfield (59 min); D Garforth (Leicester) for Holmes 64 min.

Referee: D Leslie (Scotland).

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