France 19 V. Clerc, M. Medard (tries) D. Yachvili (2 pens) F. Trinh-Duc (Drop Goal)
England 12 B. Foden, M. Cueto (tries) J. Wilkinson (con)
England crashed out of the World Cup in Auckland this morning after a disastrous first-half against Les Bleus.
England players and management had stressed countless times in media interviews the past week that getting off to a good start against the French was crucial, not to let them get into the game and dictate the play.
The French, however, stormed into a 16-0 halftime lead, thanks to tries from Vincent Clerc and Maxime Medard, and were well on their way to avenging their semi-final losses to England at the past two World Cups.
Trailing 16-0 at half-time and effectively out of the contest was not written down in Martin Johnson’s pre-match tactics.
The second half started more brightly for the English. Ben Foden responded with a try, but France edged further ahead with a drop goal from Francois Trinh-Duc.
Cueto gave England hope as he went over the line, under pressure from Clerc, with the try given after a lengthy TV referral. Toby Flood fluffed the conversion attempt to leave England needing a converted try in the last three minutes to force extra-time.
But, no last-gasp heroics were on the cards and it was French flags flying high come the final whistle.
Only the French could lose to Tonga last weekend in a performance that was indescribably bad and bounce back the next to beat England with the sort of rugby French teams of old were renowned for.
Martin Johnson said the most painful factor was that the players knew it was a game England could have won.
“They are bitterly disappointed because they know they have let a game go, a team they are good enough to have beaten, their performance today didn’t let them do it.
“France ultimately deserved to win. So that’s the difficult thing. But that is what World Cups are. We talked about that, one team goes home with a smile and for everyone else it ends in tears.”
France’s Marc Lievremont was understandably delighted: “It was a very emotional evening,” he said. “I’m extremely proud, very happy. It’s a beautiful end to the week but the whole week has been exhilarating. Many beautiful things have happened and I’m delighted.”
Les Bleus march on to face Wales next Saturday in Auckland , while England now face the long journey home to reflect on their worst World Cup finish for 12 years.