Rugby Union: France fail in finishing stretch

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The Independent Online
France. . . .3

Australia. .24

THE hope that lightning would strike twice and that the splendour of Bordeaux could be recreated was fulfilled at Parc des Princes. The vividness, the movement and the colour all came from France. The victory, however, went to Australia who were superior in the one department which mattered. They took every chance presented to them.

As a tribute, Philippe Sella, that indestructible centre of excellence who became the world's most capped player on his 94th appearance yesterday, was sent on to the field ahead of his colleagues. And there, in splendid isolation, he remained for almost all of a first half which France dominated. Their forwards drove magnificently, but were contained, albeit with difficulty on occasions, by the Australian defence.

The psychologists who theorised over Jacques Fouroux's obsession with size would have a field day with his successor, Pierre Berbizier, who has produced a pack which is gargantuan even by today's standards. There were times when they threatened to overwhelm their opponents with the precision and power of their combined driving. But they were thwarted at least half a dozen times in the opening quarter.

They had every reason to feel aggrieved by David Bishop's premature whistling. When Abdel Benazzi, a superb specimen of a modern forward, broke clear from the back of a line-out and thundered towards the Australian line, only for the French to lose the put-in at the scrummage, there was a sense of resigned acceptance in French ranks.

At this point Australia were clinging on for dear life. But there is no side more adept at picking up unconsidered trifles and turning them into points. The blue sea of the French defence parted first for Garrick Morgan and then for Roebuck who scored under the posts two minutes before half time. Lacroix's penalty for France, the last act of the half, was greeted with ironic jeers.

The French had blown their chances and full well they knew it. Roebuck, a one-man show on the scoreboard, kicked his third penalty nine minutes into the second half. But if there was any single act that broke French resistance it was David Campese's 60-yard clearance from his 22, which turned despairing defence into determined attack. The ploughshares of the first half became flashing blades, sharp and deadly in the second. Horan and Jason Little threatened mayhem in midfield and Michael Lynagh with wondrous fleetness of foot hit the bar with an attempted drop goal.

And still the Australian defence held out against the French onslaught, although it must be said, they were helped by a referee who seemed bent on rewriting the turnover law.

Roebuck's fourth penalty after the French had been caught offside had an awful inevitability about it. So did Tim Gavin's try, scored after Sadourny - who appeared to have been obstructed - spilled Lynagh's high kick behind his line. God may be a Frenchman but the Bishop, his representative on earth yesterday, most certainly was not.

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Bernat-Salles (Pau), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand); A Penaud (Brive), A Hueber (Toulon); L Armary (Lourdes), J-M Gonzalez (Bayonne), L Seigne (Merignac), O Merle (Grenoble), O Roumat (Dax, capt), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin), A Benazzi (Agen). Replacement: S Graou (Auch) for Seigne 79 min.

AUSTRALIA: M Roebuck (New South Wales); D Smith, T Horan, J Little (Queensland), D Campese (NSW); M Lynagh (capt), P Slattery (Queensland); A Daly, P Kearns, E McKenzie (NSW), R McCall, G Morgan (Queensland), M Brial, T Gavin (NSW), D Wilson (Queensland).

Referee: D Bishop (New Zealand).

Scores: Roebuck (pen, 6 min, 0-3); Roebuck (pen, 13 min 0-6); Roebuck/Roebuck (try/con, 38 min, 0-13); Lacroix (pen, 40 min, 3-13); Roebuck (pen, 49 min, 3-16); Roebuck (pen, 66 min, 3-19); Gavin (try, 68 min, 3-24).