'We have at last broken the curse'

Ian Borthwick on France's pragmatic route to victory
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The Independent Online
Philippe Saint-Andre, tie askew and souvenir match ball clamped under his arm, was still grinning with satisfaction when he arrived at the post-match press conference. "Never mind how pretty it was. Against England winning is the only thing that counts. We have at last broken the curse," he said.

This was a symbolic victory for the French captain, and no doubt the ball will soon be in pride of place on his mantelpiece, or in his Irish bar at Clermont-Ferrand. "There is an immense pleasure in beating the English. Not only because they have got used to winning here over the past seven years, but also because of the way we did it. In the past we would have cracked under the pressure, but individually and as a team we kept our sang froid and came back to win in the last minute."

The lukewarm reception from the fussy Parc des Princes crowd seemed at odds with the unrestrained jubilation from the French players, and with his albatross-like arms Olivier Merle even tried to whip up a little more enthusiasm from the main stand as he trundled off.

Especially after the flowing rugby seen against the All Blacks in November, the French public had come expecting more of the same, but as Laurent Cabannes pointed out: "For once we decided not to worry about pleasing the public. Our first concern was to win, at whatever the cost."

Thomas Castaignede, who yesterday turned 21, certainly came of age in the last minute as his drop-kick dipped, wobbled, and finally limped over the bar. Like the French performance as a whole, what it lacked in style, it made up for in efficiency. "Most of our preparation was based on playing the sort of dynamic open rugby Jean-Claude Skrela wants to put into place. But we also had an overwhelming desire to prove we were capable of beating England. It didn't take me long to realise how much it meant to the older players."

The chemistry student from Toulouse was only 14 when the Tricolores last beat England in Paris. "I used to sit with my backside in a chair and say why don't they do this, why don't they do that. But today I realised that it is not always so easy."