Rugby Union: Mapletoft has the edge

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The Independent Online
England A 24 France A 21

ENGLAND REMAIN on course for the shadow Grand Slam but were only able to claim the spoils in a close and tense match in the final minutes, thanks to a 40-metre penalty goal from Mark Mapletoft.

This absorbing encounter centred on two well-matched sets of forwards with the respective props, Graham Rowntree and Darren Crompton and Patrice Collazo and Stephane de Bescombes, proving towers of strength and determination. The England backs did not handle the challenge particularly well and lacked the flair of their opponents where the centres Luc Lafforgue and Patrick Arletta ran with great purpose and pace. The tackling of the French backs destroyed England's many attempts to move the ball across their line.

England's steadying influence came from the flanker Ben Clarke and the captain, Tony Diprose, at No 8, together with good lineout ball from Rob Fidler, and it was their efforts that contained a menacing French team.

Starting at a cracking pace, England were seven points clear in as many minutes with a scintillating try from Scott Benton, which Mapletoft converted from the touchline, but the visitors were level within three minutes. Marc del Maso crashed over and Stephane Prosper converted. Duly encouraged, France went close on many occasions but could not break a tight red rose defence.

It was England who achieved success with a Diprose try following sustained pressure by the strong home pack, a period in which the injured Adam Vander was replaced by Steve Ojomoh to give England a 12-7 lead at half-time.

In an enthralling second half, England were indebted to the excellent kicking of Mapletoft with four penalty goals, while France scored two fine tries through Thierry Cleda and Lafforgue, both converted by Prosper.

England A: Tries Benton, Diprose. Conversion Mapletoft. Penalties Mapletoft 4. France A: Tries Cleda, Dal Maso, Lafforgue. Conversions Prosper 3.

ENGLAND A: C Catling (Gloucester); L Lloyd (Leicester), N Burrows (London Irish), P Mensah (Harlequins), T Underwood (Newcastle); M Mapletoft, S Benton (both Gloucester); G Rowntree (Leicester), G Chuter (Saracens), D Crompton (Richmond), M Cornwell, R Fidler (both Gloucester), B Clarke, A Vander (both Richmond), T Diprose (Saracens, capt). Replacements: J Ewens (Bedford), A King (Wasps), N Walshe (Harlequins), S Ojomoh (Gloucester), S Shaw (Wasps), T Woodman (Gloucester), M Regan (Bath).

FRANCE A: Sadourny; Bertrand, Lafforgue, Arlettaz, Arbo; Prosper, Galthie; Collazo, Dal Maso, De Bescombes, Cleda, Belot, Labit, Sonnes, Bennetton. Replacements: Farfart, Pomme, Bellot, Betsen, Miorin, Tolofua, Bru.

Referee: P Adams (Wales).

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