Rugby Union: England's fightback falls short

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England Under-21 26 France Under-21 30

A THRILLING fightback in the final minutes was not enough to secure victory for England under-21s as they went down 30-26 to their French counterparts at Worcester last night.

The match looked to be beyond England's reach as they found themselves 11 points down with 16 minutes to go, but they kept the 3,100-strong Sixways crowd guessing until the final whistle.

A penalty from full-back Rob Thirlby opened the scoring and, despite a drop goal from French fly-half, Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, England looked well in control. A storming drive from England's mobile young hooker, Steve Walter, set up the first try for Stephen Borthwick and, as both kickers swapped penalties, England went into the break with an 11-6 lead.

The French emerged revitalised from the break and although Elissalde's attempt at a second drop goal after two minutes fell short, wing Philippe Bidabe was on hand for France's first try. The fly-half converted to help his side take the lead and the next 10 minutes saw a thrilling display of French magic. Their back line repeatedly put England under pressure with kick after kick and the centre, Guillaume Delmotte, snatched an up- an-under straight from England's hands to score under the posts.

England replied with a score from Richmond's Lee Best, who had a gutsy game on the right wing, but the speed of the French backs was just too much and a third converted try seemed to have sealed it for the visitors. The final 10 minutes was all England, however, but a Ben Cohen try and a penalty and conversion from James Brown was not enough for the win.

England: Tries Best, Borthwick, Cohen. Cons Brown. Pens Thirlby 2, Brown. France: Tries Bidabe, Delmotte, Sid. Cons Elissalde 3. Pens Elissalde 2. Drop Goals Elissalde.

England U21: Thirlby; Best, Tindall, Johnston, Walker; Pritchard, Bramhall; Ward, Walter, Dawson, Borthwick, Rule, Sanderson, Hazell, Balding. Replacements: Richards, Brown, Cohen, Hayter, Flatman, Sheridan, Moody.

France U21: Skrela; Sid, Traille, Delmotte, Bidabe; Elissalde, Albouy; Pedesseau, Servat, Poux, Gerard, De Forville, Cloup, Vermelen, Dussault. Replacements: Fillol, Barrau, Laharrague, Bouilhou, Privat, Benbouhout, Gaubert.

Referee: R Davies (Wales).

n Sam Greenway, the Bridgend wing, crossed the line for a hat-trick of tries as Wales Under-21 maintained their winning ways with an impressive 78-19 victory over their Italian counterparts in Udine yesterday. The Under-21s racked up 12 tries and kept their unbeaten record this season intact, showing the senior side the way before yesterday's game in Treviso. They have already beaten Scotland, Ireland and France in this season's Five Nations campaign with only England standing in the way of a Grand Slam. Stephen Jones, the captain, kicked nine conversions and Wales go into the important game against the English in two weeks' time in buoyant mood.

n Scotland gave the Ireland Under-21 team a fright but it was the class of the visitors, who have already beaten England and France, that shone through in the second half at Bridgehaugh, Stirling, and Ireland ran out 22-13 winners.

n A hat-trick of tries by the Australia wing Joe Roff helped inspire the Australian Capital Territory to an emphatic 37-15 win over the Stormers, their opponents from South Africa, in a Super 12 match in Canberra yesterday. Roff crossed for three of his team's five touchdowns to lead the Brumbies to their first win of the tournament after three consecutive defeats.