Sorry about the Yr8 French, but Round2 of 3 in the Trophée des Bicentenaires was played out tonight in Melbourne at AAMI Park with live, ad-free coverage provided on 9Gem with parallel (and slightly more extended) coverage on Stan Sport.
Just take a moment there – How good is that?!?!? After years of subscription-hostage crap on Fux for the garbage coverage seen especially last year (undermining value???) this is a veritable smorgasbord of choice! I call that out loud and proud right now; Well Done RA! I don’t say that too often…
Essentially the Wobblies ran the same team as last week with only Tupou and 7A’s swapping jerseys in quest for stability and tidying up their attacking breakdown to generate some fluency and cohesion in attack. In contrast, Les Coq ran out a new pack with 135kg Castres prop Wilfrid Hounkpatin joined by fellow meat-packing backrowers Cameron Woki and Ibrahim Diallo whilst Stade Francais lock Pierre-Henri Azagoh lines up with Bordeaux-Begles lock Cyril Cazeaux to form a virgin locking combination. They picked some big boys with a clear game-plan in-mind.
But enough! Aux remparts…
Kiwi Referee James Doleman blew time-on and the French continued their form of last week preferring to play without the ball. In answer the Wobblies likewise repeated last week, despite a rushing (offside?) French defence, ignoring shots at goal and preferring going wide early and working the blind. Unfortunately the accuracy issues of last week were also unresolved for the Wobblies and we gave away a breakdown 3ptr. 3-0 to the Frogs early.
However the early signs were positive with a browsing 2Cows on the left wing giving a lovely inside ball for Koroibete to scoot 30m for a great try at 6.30min… only for it to be over-ruled by an enthusiastically-interfering TMO on what was a bloody marginal knock-on call.
Amongst all this, the Wobbs set piece was strong with the first scrum getting a notable shoulder-up on Slippers side. That said, it was the Aussie Backs getting off-side from a scrum that led to the 2nd French 3ptr at 9.45min. 6-0 to the Frogs.
Another good raid down the left edge (again – 3x now on the left) yielded metres to the Wobbs but AGAIN poor accuracy in the clean-out led to relieving penalty to the Frogs. There’s a pattern here lads… However poor execution off their lineout led to the Frogs handing over the pill with a knock-on at halfway. The resulting scrum generated penalty advantage to Wobbs again as Slipper continued to rectify his errors of the previous week, and after some advantage and to & fro the Frogs predictably sacrificed a penalty in-front of their posts rather than a try. Hooper signalled for a sensible 3ptr to get the Wobbs on the board at 6-3 at 16.30min.
A 60m break by Koroibete off the kickoff put the Wobbs hard on attack but AGAIN it came to nothing with a now-predictable breakdown penalty against the Wobbs for holding on. They were playing way too fast for themselves and not securing their own ball. And likewise 5min later a good break by Banks from inside his 22m to approx halfway was only supported by inaccurate and late breakdown work AGAIN and the resulting (surprised?) turnover to the French led directly to a French try to Penaud at approx 21.30min.
So at 20min thereabouts it was good early touches by 2Cows, Koroibete and Banks plus quite good set-piece work by the Wobbs. But it was consistently blown by breakdown sloppiness generated largely by their own desire for blindingly fast play that led to a 13-3 deficit at 22min. We were punching holes with ball in hand, and the breaks were there to be had, but we couldn’t convert those breaks to points and the French were happy to feast off our errors.
Again from the kickoff the French preferred to play without the ball and kicked back with the Wobbs subsequently making more midfield yards. This time though a midfield high tackle on Hooper allowed 2Cows to post another 3ptr for 13-6 at 25min.
Following more now-predictable midfield meanderings off the kick-off, some good defensive lineout work from Philips created Wobbly ball in the French quarter and the Wobbs best platform of the 1st half beckoned. But AGAIN poor cleanout accuracy saw Noah Lolly having to buy time on the ground 5metres short of the French try-line and he was penalised for holding-on when the Wobbs were in hot-spot for a 5ptr. The subsequent French clearing kick and lineout led to some intensely physical midfield play highlighted by strong French Piggy carries and short-passing carrying play into the Wobb half. This eventually led to an off-side penalty against BPA and predictably France stretched out to 16-6 at 34min.
Then from the resulting kick-off an accidental offside penalty from the French gave the Wobbs their best attacking lineout of the night and, after bashing the line for 6-8 rucks, a French offside penalty led to another Wobbly lineout and, after walking the ball 40m sideways against glaringly off-side French defence, it took a Tupou cut-out pass from the base of the ruck to send Jake Gordon in for a try in the bottom left corner. Conversion successful for a 16-13 score at 39min.
Les oranges: Poor clean-out work meant that good midfield breaks had gone to waste. The Wobbs had over 5min in the French 22 to the French 1min in the Wobbs but had bugger all to show for such territory and possession dominance. And the French were more than happy to score off our errors as a result.
The second half saw the French kick right and some initially promising Wobbly carries came undone at halfway with a poor Gordon pass fumbled by Tupou. This led to a rapid-fire counter-attack of powerful French picks & off-loads to 5m out of the Wobbly tryline. But cometh the hour so cometh a gutsy Hooper steal which drew a penalty to relieve the pressure and a massive Banks clearing kick created a lineout on halfway. This led to some heavy Wobbly carries down to the French 22 and the ever-predictable French penalty conceded 10m out directly in-front. 16-16 at 45.30.
The French kick-off and subsequent play led to some poor passing options in midfield, to a Tom Wright knock-on and a well-earnt French penalty from the ensuing scrum allowed the French to move to 19-16 at 51min.
A poorly structured Jake Gordon box-kick when play resumed allowed a French break through to the Wobbly 5m line. Thereafter a solid 2min of heavy French line-pounding eventually led to a predictable penalty (not-rolling) against the Wobbs from which the French surprisingly took a tap restart. After TMO adjudication of a French no-try (knocked on) another Wobb off-side penalty led to a Referee warning and another French 3pts. 22-16 to the French at 56min.
Replacements now flowed with 6A’s for Tupou, Kellaway for Wright and Tate for Jake.
A scrum from a French knock-on at the kick-off led to Slipper earning a good penalty and a resulting lineout 7-8m from the French line was the best platform of the 2nd half as-yet… but a poor throw and a French steal saw the play down at the Wobb 22 in a flash and 2 breakdown infringement advantages later saw the score move to 25-16 at 62.30min.
More replacements flowed with Slipper, Philips and Harry replaced by Bell, Swain and Nisi. And this was followed shortly after with BPA swapping with Nos Lonegran and Ikitau for Paisami.
The Wobbs camped in the French half for the next 5min or so until an offside penalty against the French at the mid-point of the 22 created a lineout 7-8m from the French line – another fantastic attacking platform. LSL took a good throw but the French defended mightily and broke up the maul to bundle Lonegran into touch.
This was the tone of play for the next 7-8minutes until continued Aussie persistence eventually led to another midfield break from a smart inside ball from Lolly to Banks. But in contrast to the blown chances all-night, after a series of passes and bobbles, the TMO allowed Hooper to score in the left corner. Duly converted the French lead was now cut to 25-23 at 71.30min and the Wobbs were well in it despite themselves.
Off the kickoff some powerful midfield running by Nisi, Valentini and LSL led to a penalty on the French 10m at 15m infield and Noah Lolly nodded to Hooper who signalled to Referee Doleman for a 3ptr attempt by Lolesio. Successful. 26-25 to the Wobbs at 75.30min and perhaps we have a repeat of the last minute snatched-win of last week…
And such seemed assured when a messy Wobbly kickoff reception was fortunate to result in a Wobbly scrum feed with only 3.30min to go. But Bamba for the French applied massive pressure to Bell who stood-up in the scrum, conceding the crucial penalty to France. They didn’t miss making the score 28-26 at 77.30min and there it stayed…
La fin: After 31yrs since their last victory, on the eve of Bastille Day, the French keep the series alive with a powerful 28-26 win.
Un Grand Moment: It is too easy to put this at the feet of Angus Bell. There were 6-8 good attacking opportunities created by the Wobblers which were brought undone by sloppy execution. Any one of those opportunities executed accurately meant that Bell wasn’t put in that position. But they weren’t. So he was. And that is what history will record. Poor bugger.
Meilleur Joueur: Both Mat Philip & LSL were busy from the start & 2Cows, Koroibete and Hooper had some great touches. But for mine, Tupou was the best of the Wobbs with some great scrummage, smashing tackles and strong carries. However the French no6 Woki boit le vin with a dominant, powerful game in dark and unseen places.
Le Dernier Mot: Ok, so perhaps there was no singular moment that will be remembered as was Serge Blanco’s try in 1987, or Peter Fits in 1990 getting his head punched-in, or James Horwill getting similarly munted in 2008. However it was a much improved quality of game from both sides compared to last week. That said, the Wobbs continue to be wasteful because of poor breakdown accuracy and let themselves down at critical times best represented in the last 15min of the game when a poor throw, a poor kickoff reception and a poor scrum took away what was otherwise have been a bloody hard-worked win. In comparison the French were contained, played to their game-plan, but were massive in energy and intent and executed when it counted.
With 4-days to Suncorp Stadium and the decider, Dave Rennies selections will be most interesting.
Anyway, that will do me. Congratulations France. Bonsoir mes amis. Apres bon vin, bon coussin!