France 13-31 England, Parc des Princes
France lose their honour against England
Richard Seeckts
February 15, 1992
Report Match details
Date/Time: Feb 15, 1992, 15:00 local, 14:00 GMT
Venue: Parc des Princes
France 13 - 31 England
Attendance: 45150  Half-time: 4 - 15
Tries: Penaud, Viars
Cons: Viars
Pens: Viars
Tries: Morris, Underwood, Webb, Penalty
Cons: Webb 3
Pens: Webb 3
England's Dewi Morris slides over, France v England, Five Nations, Parc des Princes, February 15, 1992
England's Dewi Morris slides over for their fourth try
© PA Photos
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France became the first team to have two players sent off in a Five Nations match back in 1992 when red-mist enveloped them as England rampaged towards a second consecutive Grand Slam under Will Carling.

Anglo-French rugby relations were tense in the early 1990s, not least because France were unaccustomed to the role of underdog. Not since the 1920s had France lost four consecutive matches to England, a position they found themselves in after an acrimonious World Cup quarter-final in Paris in October 1991.

That match, fondly remembered in England for Mickey Skinner's legendary tackle on Marc Cecillon brought down the curtain on Serge Blanco's career and triggered a rebuilding phase for the hosts. Paul Ackford was the only post World Cup retiree for England, and it was the unceremonious trampling on his replacement, Martin Bayfield, that triggered the mayhem in this match.

Before the match, coach Pierre Berbizier had admonished his players for punches thrown against Wales and made much of his intolerance of violent conduct. Captain Philippe Sella reassured the world, "This is a more disciplined team than played in the World Cup. It listens and learns."

For an hour the game was wholesome Five Nations fare. Jonathan Webb's early penalty was the only score until Sebastian Viars went over in the 34th minute when English defence finally cracked after a barrage of French attacks. Fly-half Rob Andrew wrote afterwards, "After half an hour, we were under the cosh and we knew it. We did not have the ball, were not playing well and we were struggling."

Andrew left the field after an accidental clash of heads with Sella, and England prospered with 12 points in the closing minutes of the first half. Referee Stephen Hilditch awarded a penalty try when a five-metre scrum collapsed as England went for a pushover. Then replacement fly-half David Pears sent a long, cut-out pass to Jeremy Guscott who sliced open the French defence and fed onto Webb with impeccable timing for the try. 15-4 at the interval; France in shock having expected to turn around in front.

 
"So, in disarray, they punched, they gouged, they stamped on opponents and they feigned injury"
 

England took charge in the second half, calmly wearing the French pack out. Excellent handling by forwards and backs put Rory Underwood through for his 35th international try after Viars and Webb had exchanged penalties. Sella had gone off with a head wound, and with him went French discipline. Alan Penaud charged down a Carling kick and scored but the game was gone by then.

Laurent Cabannes set off for the posts, only to be recalled for barging at the lineout, and French frustration at the situation and the referee boiled over ten minutes before the end.

First, prop Gregoire Lascube trampled on Bayfield's head as a ruck rumbled over. Referee Hilditch didn't see it but touch judge Owen Doyle rightly insisted on the dismissal.

The atmosphere on the field and in the stands changed immediately, to what Brian Moore described as "overt hostility" as Lascube disappeared down the tunnel. Vincent Moscato moved from hooker to loose-head prop at the next scrum, Jeff Tordo came from the back row to hooker. With Philippe Gimbert at tight-head, and Jason Leonard, Moore and Jeff Probyn facing them, the prospects for peace were negligible.

As the front rows engaged, Tordo and Moscato head-butted Moore and Probyn, setting off a liberal exchange of blows, but order was restored and a stern warning issued by Hilditch to Moscato. Moore quotes Hilditch, "Monsieur, la tete, non!" But Probyn pulled a face at Moscato as they went down for a second time and Moscato, by now "crying tears of rage" butted him again.

When the ensuing battle calmed down, Hilditch had no option but to dismiss Moscato. Tordo was considered lucky not to follow him and Gimbert did enough damage to Moore before the end that France could have finished with 11 players.

England's Dean Richards aims a punch at the French © PA Photos
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To their credit, England maintained control of themselves and the match. The final minutes were largely about self-preservation, though Dewi Morris managed to sneak over for England's fourth try right at the end. The Sunday Times' Stephen Jones admitted being critical of England's mentality at times during this era but acknowledged, "If the relationship between the two countries is now at its lowest point, that is emphatically the fault of the French."

In the Daily Mail, Ian Wooldridge described the French being humiliated in front of the Parc des Princes crowd. "So, in disarray, they punched, they gouged, they stamped on opponents and they feigned injury."

The disciplinary committee met within 90 minutes after the match. Lascube and Moscato received bans of six months and neither played for France again. L'Equipe ran a headline, "Hit......Sunk" and its editorial mourned, "Our team has lost more than a match. It has lost everything, honour included."

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