- France raise the bar in Roubaix
- Counties pay the penalty
France Amateurs 29-11 England Counties XV
England Counties hopes of avenging a defeat by their French counterparts at Twickenham last year never threatened to materialise on a wet night in Roubaix, where the home side held the whip-hand throughout.
The Counties had the benefit of a long-range opening penalty by full-back Frankie Neale, but when France went ahead with a smart try by wingman Mathieu Mercier after 14 minutes, they never allowed their opponents back into the game.
The combination of referee Colin Stancey’s whistle – unchallenged by the team and the management - and the inering boot of wingman Bertrand Artero proved to be major handicap for the Counties as they continued to fall foul of the officials interpretation of events and were never able to stem the flow of points as the wingman weighed in with five penalties and two conversions.
While there were moments when the frustrations of the Counties players were painfully apparent, they were never able to get any continuity into their play and could not get a foothold in the game.
They did well enough at the lineout, but their scrum was under intense pressure from the outset and at the breakdown the Frenchman more than held their own and denied their opponents the kind of quality ball they had been hoping for the put together a flowing, expansive style.
A second try from flanker Joris Matheron and a brace of conversions and a penalty gave France 17-6 interval lead, Neale pegging the lead back with a penalty in first-half injury time.
Hopes the Counties might regroup after the break were unfulfilled as Artero continued to nail every chance that came his way, four second-half penalties keeping the Counties comfortably at arm’s length.
They managed a try with their best piece of forward play from a scrum after 54 minutes, flanker Darren Fox being driven over but that was the to be the visitors’ only reward as the game deteriorated into bad-tempered affair with three players, including Fox, spending time in the sin-bin.
“At the end of the day I thought the French side played well, took their chances well, played in the right areas of the field and deserved their win,” said Counties Forward Coach Dave Baldwin. “Our problem was that we struggled all night to get good, clean, quick ball. We did win some ball early on, but it wasn’t really sufficiently sharp to allow us to get any ‘go forward’ into our game. The French also counter-rucked very well and won key ball in that department.”
Said Counties Manager Danny Hodgson: “It’s always very disappointing to lose by a score like that, but we knew the French had strengthened their side after defeat by the Scotland clubs and it just didn’t happen for us tonight. They were a better side than us on the night and deserved the win.”
England Counties XV:
F Neale (London Scottish & Kent); H Smales (Tyndale & Northumberland), R Damant (London Scottish & Surrey), M Bedworth (Wharfedale & Durham), J Hylton (Esher & Surrey); J Brown (London Scottish), T Richardson (Stourbridge & Berkshire), J Williams (Tynedale & Northumberland), J Graham (Tynedale & Cumbria), A Fahey (London Scottish), T Bason (Blackheath) capt, R Anderson (Esher & Hertfordshire), D Legge (Cambridge & Essex), D Fox (Cambridge), R Baldwin (Wharfedale & Yorkshire).
Replacements (all used): M Hall (Blaydon & Northumberland), N Flynn (Sedgley Park & Lancashire), M Owen (Macclesfield & Cheshire), D Baines (Macclesfield & Lancashire), G Barr (Rosslyn Park & Middlesex), J Fitzpatrick (Blaydon & Durham), G Collins (Leicester Lions & Warwickshire).
J Caminati (Nice); B Artero (Carcassone), A Frenet (Bourg-en-Bresse), J-B Lafite (Perigueux), M Mercier (Castanet); R Laborde (Marmande-Casteljaloux), B Lombarteix (Monteux); J-P Jacouton (Dijon), F Cazalot (Lourdes), B Schaub (Chalon-sur-Saone), S Pinet (Orleans), G Trotignon (Chalon-sur-Saone), J Matheron (Monteux), J Troader (Lourdes) capt, J Capdeillayre (La Seyne).
Replacements (all used): A Falieres (Montlucon), J Selvat (Ceret), M Ameur (Leucate), G Conan (Saint-Medard-en-Jailes), F Da Silva (Saint Etienne), G Marque (Marseille-Vitrolles), G Pszonak (Montlucon), N Mateos (Marmande-Casteljaloux).
Referee: C Stancey (Ireland)