France Fédérale 29 – 11 England Counties
At the Stade Velodrome, Roubaix
The Vélodrome in Roubaix is the historic finish of the one of the most gruelling one day classics in the cycling calendar, the famous Paris-Roubaix otherwise known as the Hell of the North, and on a wet night England Counties were steamrollered by the French pack into submission in their own Hell of the North in front of a crowd of some 2,500.
England came into the game with confidence following their impressive win at Stourbridge against Irish Clubs, France on the other hand had slipped up at Netherdale against Scottish clubs and were keen to make amends.
One of their changes saw the recall of Bertrand Artero of U.S. Carcassonne, who was one of the main architects of their fine win at Twickenham last season, in difficult conditions he once again proved to be England’s nemesis with a faultless kicking display, converting both France’s first half tries and five penalty kicks, one from over 45 meters for a personal tally of 19 points!
England did get off to a promising start with a penalty kick from full-back Frankie Neale of London Scottish, however France roared on by passionate support from the local crowd soon hit back with a try after 14 minutes from winger Mathieu Mercier (Castanet), from then on they didn’t look back,. England were undone once more on 28 minutes when flanker Joris Matheron (Monteux) scored France’s second try of the night, Artero’s two conversions plus a penalty on 32 minutes put the French in a commanding 17-3 lead. Just before half-time Neale gave England Counties a glimmer of hope with his second penalty for a half-time score of 17-6.
In the second half England continued to fall foul of Irish referee Mr. Stancey with Artero kicking further penalties to stretch France’s advantage to 23-6.
England did manage to pull one try back with a forward surge after 54 minutes, which saw Cambridge flanker Darren Fox claim an unconverted score. The only heartening moment in the game from an English perspective.
England’s frustrations become apparent as the game then degenerated, try scorer Fox being one of three players forced to spend 10 minutes on the sidelines.
Further penalties from the metronomic Artero on 60 and 80 minutes completed France’s win ensuring they kept hold of the Jean-Claude Baque Cup for another season.
If anyone has any doubts about what a game such as this means then the post-match comments from the French show just how much the win meant to them.
“The atmosphere around the ground was remarkable, commented La Seyne flanker Julien Capdeillayre, We felt the passion of the Roubaix crowd – the youngsters all around the pitch encouraging us – it was very special and lifted us”.
French coach Olivier Magne who knows a thing or two about being on the winning side against England summed it up thus “This match played here today will remain a special moment in these players memories. To beat England wearing the blue shirt of France in such an atmosphere is not something you will forget easily. Tonight is our little “Grand slam” for the ordinary club player.
Whilst disappointed the England management team were nevertheless fulsome in their congratulations to France. “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.”