Rugby Union: Deadly Eales' ominous warning

Hugh Godwin at Stade de France
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France 21 Australia 32

Tries: Lombard, Tries: Wilson, Bowman,

Carbonneau Kefu

Con: Lamaison Con: Eales

Pens: Lamaison 3 Pen: Eales 5

Half-time: 21-20 Attendance: 76,000

BY THE time you read this England's cricketers may, or may not, have launched a fight-back in their bid for the Ashes. The nation's rugby players should certainly be in no doubt that the Aussies are in ominous form as they march towards Twickenham on Saturday.

France fielded 11 of the team who thrashed Wales to complete the Grand Slam back in April. Even so, they were no match for a Wallaby outfit that continues to combine finesse with unyielding muscle.

The Australian outside-half Steve Larkham may cut a slightly incongruous figure with his scrum cap and lanky frame. Yet the 23-year-old from Canberra, a thoroughly shrewd tactician, has made the No 10 jersey his own in 1998, during which time Australia have lost just twice in 12 Tests, both narrowly to South Africa.

Even the Wallabies' press handout describes Larkham's talents as "freakish". Whether by accident or design, his kicks from deep rarely found touch. Either way you sensed that Australia were confident in themselves to contain France's counter-attacking urges. Apart from one lapse which led to a try by Thomas Lombard after 24 minutes, they succeeded.

It is about time someone struck a blow for northern hemisphere rugby, and it seemed eminently possible when France led 21-20 at half-time. Yet despite camping in the Australian half for fully 15 minutes early in the second period, they had but one chance to score, and that was a penalty which went wide from the recalled Christophe Lamaison.

The run up to the match had not been happy for the Wallabies. The winger Joe Roff spent two days in bed early in the week with gastric flu and the bug spread, via the coach Rod MacQueen, to the extent that two players, Phil Kearns and Jason Little, were bed-ridden the day before the match.

France drew first blood when Lamaison struck from a penalty, but the first of five tries in the match went to the tourists. A catch and drive by the captain John Eales was followed by a trademark pummelling up the middle and a lovely dummy by the centre Daniel Herbert made the room for the flanker David Wilson to go over.

On a chilly day, difficult conditions underfoot perhaps reined-in France's ambitious tendencies and, with the Australian tackles going in hard and often, it was no time for faint hearts. A penalty by Lamaison and a try for the Australian second row Tom Bowman saw the lead exchange hands.

Then came the chink in the Aussie armour. One wayward kick too many encouraged the French winger Philippe Bernat-Salles to charge out of defence, Fabien Pelous set up a ruck and swift inter-passing by Phillipe Carbonneau and Arthur Gomes sent the winger Lombard tearing away from 35 metres to the line. Eales had missed twice initially with goal-kicks but found his sights to level with a 45-metre penalty. He did not miss again.

A thunderous half careered along as France again took the initiative with a third Lamaison penalty and a textbook try from a short-range lineout. France's flanker Olivier Magne was expertly launched skywards by his second row Olivier Brouzet and palmed back for Carbonneau to burrow his way through.

Toutai Kefu broke away for his side's third try in injury-time, Eales converting. And after the Wallabies had weathered the storm in their own territory they broke out once and for all with Eales punishing the French with four second-half penalties.

France: A Gomes (Stade Francais); P Bernat-Salles (Biarritz), C Lamaison (Brive), S Glas (Bourgoin), T Lombard (Stade Francais); D Aucagne (Pau), P Carbonneau (Brive); S Marconnet (Stade Francais), R Ibanez (Perpignan, capt), F Tournaire (Toulouse), O Brouzet (Begles-Bordeaux), F Pelous (Toulouse), M Lievremont (Stade Francais), O Magne (Brive), T Lievremont (Perpignan). Replacements: R Castel (Beziers) for M Lievremont, 68.

Australia: C Latham (Queensland); J Little (Queensland), D Herbert (Queensland), N Grey (New South Wales), J Roff (ACT); S Larkham (ACT), G Gregan (ACT); P Noriega (ACT), P Kearns (Queensland), A Blades (New South Wales), T Bowman (New South Wales), J Eales ( capt), M Cockbain, D Wilson, T Kefu (all Queensland) Replacements: O Finegan (ACT) for Cockbain, 56; W Ofahengaue (New South Wales) for Kefu, 58; M Foley (Queensland) for Kearns, 63.

Referee: A Watson (South Africa).