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Premiership Rugby

England hammer France in World Cup send-off

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

Two tries from wing Ben Cohen and one from fullback Jason Robinson in the seven minutes before the half-time whistle added fuel to the fire in a dominant display, while Iain Balshaw's try 10 seconds into the second half and a late Josh Lewsey effort stamped a seal of class on to an accomplished showing.

France, without many of their star names, lacked ideas, thrust and seemingly a gameplan, as their paper-thin midfield leaked tries, although a tougher second-half performance saw them at least prevent the score from reaching 50 points, with a late try from replacement wing Aurélien Rougerie being their only touchdown of the day.

On the day that Ireland's Geordan Murphy was ruled out of the World Cup after breaking a leg in a World Cup warm-up, both Clive Woodward and Bernard Laporte will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief that none of their stars have seemingly fallen victim to the most ill-timed of injuries, although England centre Stuart Abbott did have a hint of a limp as he left the field midway through the second half, while scrum-half Kyran Bracken went off after only 33 minutes.

Star turns Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson both exuded leadership and ruthlessness in their only World Cup warm-up outings, although they were both taken from the field after 43 minutes to be wrapped back up in cotton-wool before the showpiece in Australia in a month's time.

England had welcomed back a whole host of their stars for the match after their second-string fell by a single point in Marseille last week, and there were stellar displays from the likes of hooker Steve Thompson and fullback Robinson, as well as two-try hero Cohen.

With coach Clive Woodward set to name his World Cup squad on Sunday, the likes of Abbott, No.8 Martin Corry and wing Balshaw were all arguably among the main candidates playing for their places.

Balshaw showed real hunger and may well have done enough, while Abbott looked assured with some silky combination play alongside Will Greenwood – the aggressive Corry putting in some big hits, but perhaps failing to exert the same authority as a Lawrence Dallaglio on proceedings.

For the French, some shocking tackling in the three-quarters blighted their play, with Xavier Garbajosa, Clément Poitrenaud and Yannick Jauzion being the chief culprits – accounting for at least three of the England tries with their half-hearted efforts in contact.

Fly-half Gérald Merceron looked short of ideas, and did nothing to suggest that he will trouble Frédéric Michalak's place in the side, although he did deliver the odd deft chip and admittedly had the majority of his ball on the back foot.

Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili suffered under the pressure from the English loose forwards, while a back row of Patrick Tabacco, Christian Labit and Sébastien Chabal never imposed themselves on the game.

It took replacement wing Rougerie to spark some life into their ailing fortunes with some barnstorming runs by the big Montferrand man down the right, as well as pulling off a magnificent try-saving tackle on Balshaw, covering for yet another weak tackle attempt by his fellow three-quarters.

Despite their heavy loss, it was actually France who led early on after scoring the first points of the game through a Merceron penalty, but a subsequent perfect four from four by Wilkinson eclipsed Les Bleus' initial efforts for a 12-3 advantage on the half-hour.

Thompson did his best Jonah Lomu impression with a powering break down the left-wing, giving the lawnmower treatment to the two unfortunate defenders in his wake, although the move broke down before a try could be scored.

French flanker Tabacco found himself an early visitor to the sin bin for a late challenge – the only player binned all match – and once England scored their first try on 33 minutes, the French defensive dam had been busted.

Cohen opened the try account after Wilkinson grubbered ahead in the 22, a botched attempt to handle the ball from the retreating Yachvili seeing it bounce of the post, only for the grateful Cohen to dot down.

Wilkinson converted, and only three minutes later was lining his second attempt after Cohen grabbed his another try – a Wilkinson break seeing him off-load to Greenwood before the supporting Cohen powered over courtesy of a short pop pass on the 22.

Again, Wilkinson had no problems with the extras, and with the 'Men in White' now totally dominant, fullback Robinson – who looked dangerous all game – decided to have a sprint for the line from 50 metres down the left-wing, some slipshod French tackling seeing the Sale Sharks flyer breeze home virtually unopposed after Poitrenaud's challenge dissolved without a fizz.

Even from the left touchline the conversion was no trouble for Wilkinson, with his side going into the interval with a massive 33-3 scoreline to their credit.

And 10 seconds into the second half they ran in their fourth try, Balshaw magnificently collecting a switched kick-off and haring past Garbajosa down the right-wing while the crowd were still getting back to their seats.

But, given the flood of scoring that had preceded it, the next 40 minutes proved barren for the English, who plugged away with solid play but could not breach the renewed French defence, which had finally found some fight after a shaky start – buoyed by the introduction of veteran forwards Olivier Magne and Fabien Pelous from the bench.

Replacement wing Rougerie made a big impact and almost scored twice out wide on the right, only some last ditch England defence saving them, while the hosts too showed adventure, Grayson delivering a sublime pass to Balshaw down the right-wing, only to see the Bath man's chip go into touch near the corner-flag.

At 38-3 down, and with the game well beyond them, the French then took the remarkable decision to kick for goal when given a penalty near the 22, Merceron slotting it through to the deafening ring of boos from the agitated Twickenham crowd.

Having finally found some rhythm, France mounted some sound attacks, hooker Ibanez ploughing through a midfield gap on the 22 only to be stopped just short, while a solid tackle from Abbott stopped Rougerie converting a cross-field bomb into a score in the corner.

Abbott then limped off the field, but England still pressed – Balshaw twice going close to scoring with an attack down the right and then a fumbled attempt to clutch a Grayson chip from under the crossbar.

As if Merceron's penalty attempt was not bizarre enough, centre Jauzion then took proceedings into the twilight zone with his extraordinary decision to opt for an impromptu drop-goal on the 22. While it went through the posts, it stank of the desperation and typified the lack of ideas besetting the French at times.

With the game ambling towards its final minutes after a quiet period, a flowing break down the left-wing brought some life back to the crowd, with Cohen spinning a beautifully weighted pass to replacement lock Simon Shaw.

The recycle saw breaks from West and Greenwood, before the ball found its way to Dawson from 10 metres out – the scrum-half drawing his man before popping a perfect pass for Lewsey to crash over the line for a try, converted by Grayson.

But that was not to be the final score of the match, as replacement wing Rougerie was rewarded for his persistence and endeavour, touching down in the right corner in the fifth minute of stoppage time after a desperate hack from Yachvili somehow found its way to Pelous, who was lingering in the backline – Rougerie finishing off from short range after stepping inside Robinson.

Merceron missed the conversion from way out wide, leaving French coach Bernard Laporte to ponder his options going into the World Cup, after a match which confirmed that depth may well be a problem if their frontline stars go down.

For England, a perfect send-off to the World Cup, with their blistering spell before the interval taking them a plane above their opponents, although their failure to make the most of some chances elsewhere in the match may still be a nagging annoyance to the perfectionist coaches, despite the undoubted creative headway made by all and sundry in white.

Man of the match: A tough choice given the number of accomplished displays from those in the (skintight) England shirts, with hooker Steve Thompson and fullback Jason Robinson both failing to put a foot wrong all match. But, for his explosive impact just before the break, and some try-saving challenges, left-wing Ben Cohen gets our nod. From the French ranks the candidates are few and far between after a dismal early performance, although replacement wing Aurélien Rougerie was outstanding after coming on at half-time for Christophe Dominici.

Moment of the match: The second try from England wing Ben Cohen in the final minutes of the first half wins our vote, after stiff competition from all four other touch-downs by his team, and the moment when French flanker Sébastien Chabal laid his lips on England hooker Steve Thompson in the heat of battle. But Cohen's try had a shuddering ring of power. Started by a break from Jonny Wilkinson near the 22, he off-loaded to his left for Will Greenwood, who passed out of the tackle to Cohen at pace, the wing burning a hasty path toward the posts.

Villain of the match: Some shocking missed tackles blighted the French play, especially early on, so our villainous award goes to the entire French backline's one-on-one defensive efforts.

The scorers:

For England:Tries: Cohen 2, Robinson, Balshaw, LewseyCons: Wilkinson 3, GraysonPens: Wilkinson 4

For France:Try: RougeriePens: Merceron 2DG: Jauzion

Yellow cards: Patrick Tabacco (France, 33)

The teams:

England: 15 Jason Robinson, 14 Iain Balshaw, 13 Stuart Abbott (Josh Lewsey, 60), 12 Will Greenwood, 11 Ben Cohen (Josh Lewsey, 47-52), 10 Jonny Wilkinson (Paul Grayson, 43), 9 Kyran Bracken (Matt Dawson, 33), 8 Martin Corry (Lewis Moody, 57, Dorian West 68-72), 7 Neil Back, 6 Richard Hill, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Martin Johnson (captain, Simon Shaw, 43), 3 Julian White (Jason Leonard, 63), 2 Steve Thompson (Dorian West, 73), 1 Trevor Woodman.

France: 15 Clément Poitrenaud, 14 Xavier Garbajosa, 13 Yannick Jauzion, 12 Brian Liebenberg, 11 Christophe Dominici (Aurélien Rougerie, 40), 10 Gérald Merceron, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Christian Labit, 7 Patrick Tabacco (Imanol Harinordoquy, 73), 6 Sébastien Chabal (Olivier Magne, 50), 5 Olivier Brouzet (Fabien Pelous, 58), 4 David Auradou, 3 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 2 Raphael Ibanez (captain, Yannick Bru, 73), 1 Olivier Milloud (Sylvain Marconnet, 63-73).Unused replacements: 18 Jerome Thion, 21 Frédéric Michalak.

Referee: Nigel Williams (Wales)Touch judges: Alan Lewis (Ireland), Hugh Watkins (Wales)Television Match Official: Donal Courtney (Ireland)

By Mark Smith

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