The French broke their two-match losing streak in stunning style in Auckland tonight, eliminating England from the Rugby World Cup with a 19-12 victory that catapults the most unpredictable team in world rugby into a semi-final clash with the impressive Welsh. A blistering first half performance won the game for France; although England began to impress in the second, the French were a hard act to follow and were never in serious danger of losing against a side that looked confused and unorganised for much of the match.
Dimitri Yachvili threatened to terrorise England early on, capitalising on English indiscipline around the breakdown to give g his side a quick-fire 6-0 lead before losing his shooting boots later in the half. The French backs had begun to find their rhythm by then, looking very slick with ball in hand as France began to control the contest. Even the English set piece became a concern, somewhat unusually, as the French largely matched the much-vaunted English scrum while dominating the line-outs. Vincent Clerc split the English defence open with a brilliant run as the French backs were released from one such stolen line-out, before Maxime Médard provided a simple finish to a flamboyant move as a lacklustre English team found themselves 16-0 down and struggling with the unpredictable nature of their opponents. A brief rally came to nothing as the siren gave France a dominant and deserved half-time lead.
A half-time meeting with Martin Johnson seemed to remind his English outfit of the value of possession; England enjoyed an extended period with ball in hand in a slow start to the half and just as the spirited French defence looked water-tight, Ben Foden broke clear to record the first English points of the game in the 54th minute. Marc Lievremont sent the boot of Francois Trinh-Duc into the fray as France looked to shut their traditional foes out of a match that had opened considerably; as buoyed by the success of their fullback, the English had thrown caution to the wind with the realisation that they had little time to save their World Cup dream. Toby Flood took the reins from Johnny Wilkinson and looked genuinely incisive at pivot against the rapidly tiring French; however the English were repelled deep into the match before Trinh-Duc took a calculated field goal to ostensibly stretch the lead out of England’s desperate reach. England finished with a flourish with a late try to Mark Cueto but were unable to chase down les Blues as the French recorded a hard-fought win to confound their critics once again.