Le Crunch perfect start for France

Sun, 02 Feb 2014 10:27
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France coach Philippe Saint-Andre praised his team’s will following their thrilling 26-24 win over England in Paris on Saturday.

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre praised his team’s will following their thrilling 26-24 win over England in Paris on Saturday.

Two tries by Yoann Huget in the first 20 minutes of the Six Nations clash put the hosts in the driver’s seat.

But England weathered a passionate French storm and had the better of the second quarter.

A crucial try right before the break by Mike Brown saw the visitors trail 18-6 at half-time.

Stuart Lancaster’s men continued to dominate proceedings in the second half and a converted try by debutant centre Luther Burrell following a second Owen Farrell penalty handed England the lead for the first time after 49 minutes.

England scrumhalf Danny Care slotted a drop-goal before replacements Andy Goode and Maxime Machenaud traded penalties to leave the Test on a knife’s edge, with England leading 24-19 with seven minutes remaining.

Les Bleus went on to stun the English with a long-range try rounded off by replacement Gael Fickou, who crucially dotted down under the posts, which allowed Machenaud to slot the match-winning conversion.

“We struck first and last, but we really struggled in the physical confrontation, especially in the second half. We missed a lot of tackles, but our aim was to hold on, hang in there for 80 minutes,” said Saint Andre.

“We produced a quality first half, scored two tries and asked a lot of questions of the English defence. However, in the second half, we didn't manage to get good possession. They attacked us in the number 9-10 area, and got on the front foot, offloaded.

“They have a lot of quality in the contacts. But we'll focus on the win, on the smiles on the boys' faces in the changing room. This game will be important for our confidence in the opening of this international season.

“We were in the lead 16-3, but we lacked in patience. We missed touch after a penalty, we didn't chase quickly enough after our kicks and allowed them to keep playing at their own pace.

“They wanted to move the ball around and we should have controlled the tempo of the game a lot better. In the second half we started struggling and had to replace a few players early on.

“However, the English played with so much pace, eventually that took a toll on them, and they were not showing as much intensity in the last 15 minutes of the game.

“Then we started to find solutions when we could keep the ball in hand. That last try will give a lot of hope to this young French team.”

Saint-Andre said the performance of debutant flyhalf Jules Plisson, who set up Huget for the first try after just 30 seconds with a kick, summed up the team’s showing.

“His first 20 minutes were absolutely brilliant, in terms of skills, decision making, strategy. Then he started to fade, missed a few tackles, made a few mistakes.

“We had decided to try those young players at international level, and I can assure you that they experienced just that.

“He played the whole game for his first cap, and I want to congratulate him for the spirit he showed, his heart and enthusiasm.

“If there wasn't such good atmosphere in the squad, we wouldn't have turned that game around in the end. I want to thank the crowd as well for pushing and believing in their team until the very end.”

Captain Pascal Pape added: "We went through a lot of disappointments last season but that helps build a squad too.

"It's good because it's been a long time since we saw smiles on the players' faces. Yet, we'll have to work on the details, on a lot of things."

France play host to Italy - who went down 15-23 in a gutsy performance against Wales in Cardiff - next weekend.

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Team P W D L Pts
England 5 5 0 132 10
Wales 5 3 1 1 7
Ireland 5 2 1 2 5
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France 5 2 0 3 4
Italy 5 0 0 5 0