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Injury-time agony for Counties

28 December 2003

England Counties 18 France Amateurs 27
 
A HAT-TRICK of tries from Christophe Gasperi earned France Amateurs a 27-18 win against England Counties at Henley.
 
The Nimes winger touched down three times in the second-half to end the Counties fightback and secure his side the inaugural Jean Claude Baque Trophy.
 
France had dominated the first half, with Nicolas Bruzy scoring a try and kicking a conversion and penalty.
 
But second half tries from Penzance lock Lee Soper and Sale full-back James Moore - pulled England's semi-professional representative side back to 20-18 down in the final minutes.
 
Moore missed his 79th minute chance to win the game with a long-range penalty and France added some gloss to the scoreline when Gasperi scored his third try with the final move of the match.
 
England had fielded five veterans of the previous meeting between the sides - a 26-24 defeat in Blagnac last summer - with Sale full-back Moore, former Manchester wing Craig Cooper and Esher centre Jan Bonney all lining up in a lively backline.
 
But the forwards, with Soper (Penzance Newlyn) and Dave Muckalt Macclesfield) also returning, had a tougher time in the loose against a rugged French back-row led by outstanding Lunel No.8 Sylvain Tanir.
 
The best of the early chances fell to England, only for the final pass going astray after Bonney and Freeman Payne unstitched the French midfield and fly-half Lee Cholewa stepped inside to get within five metres of the line in the opening 15 minutes.
 
They also mounted a huge assault on the line before the break, hammering away with several driving mauls only for Bonney to miss the unmarked Soper with what should have been the scoring pass.
 
But the bulk of the first half was dominated by Tanir's muscular work in the loose and the equally dangerous French backline.
 
Fly-half Bruzy got them off the mark with his 22nd minute penalty and then converted his own score from wide on the right after a superb sweeping attack involving Bobigny centre Julien Meret and Dijon full-back Thomas Savre.
 
Moore missed with an early shot at goal before opening England's account from 45 metres after France were adjudged to have pulled down a scrum by Welsh referee Philip Fear.
 
England's best hope was to turn their lineout dominance into points and they did so with Moore adding a penalty early in the second half before Gasperi chased a kick to touch down the first of his treble.
 
Soper was driven over at another lineout on the hour with Moore converting from the left-hand touchline to leave England trailing by two points, but France countered again when Bruzy's long pass allowed Gasperi to squeeze into the corner.
 
That was the cue for the Counties' best move of the match, replacement No.8 Richard Senior (Sedgley Park) and skipper Jamie Hamilton (Nuneaton) combining at the back of the scrum to send Moore surging down the right to score.
 
He couldn't convert from the touchline, though, and was at the limit of his kicking range a minute from time with a long-range effort that fell short.
 
And it was France who finished on a high, taking advantage after luckily regathering one of their own sliced kicks to send Gasperi streaking in under the posts from 25 metres with replacement Laurent Caillat converting.
 
England Counties: James Moore (Sale), Craig Cooper (Unattached), Freeman Payne (Waterloo), Jan Bonney (Esher), Ben Murphy (Nottingham), Lee Cholewa (Harrogate), Jamie Hamilton (Nuneaton, captain), Rob Faulkner (Newbury), Joe Duffey (Nottingham), Neil Collins (Newbury), Paul Clapham (Doncaster), Lee Soper (Penzance Newlyn), Craig Hammond (Nottingham), Matt Evans (Worcester), Dave Muckalt (Macclesfield).
Replacements: Paul Price (Lydney), Gareth Roberts (Sedgley Park), Shaun Brady (Bedford), Richard Senior (Sedgley Park), Jon Higgins (Worcester), Mal Roberts (Newbury), Rob Hitchmough).
 
Scorers: England Counties: Tries - Soper, Moore. Con - Moore. Pens - Moore 2.
France Amateurs: Tries - Gasperi 3, Bruzy. Cons - Bruzy, Caillat. Pen - Bruzy