Rugby World Cup 2003
French trample all over Scotland
Huw Richards reports from Sydney
October 25, 2003
France skipper Fabien Galthie reaches out to score
© Getty Images
France signalled their World Cup intentions with a decisive 51-9 victory over Scotland to reach the quarter finals. World Cups by definition bring together rugby's greatest talent, but it is possible that there is greater depth and quality among back rowers here than any other part of the team.
There are a number of truly formidable trios - think of New Zealand, England or South Africa, and even some of the weakest teams in the competition have serious quality, represented by players like Namibia's Schalk van der Merwe or Romania's Ovidiu Tonita.
It is possible, though, that the best of the lot are the French combination of Serge Betsen, Imanol Harinordoquy and Serge Betsen. As a trio they are balanced and complementary in every way, even in reflecting the diversity of French rugby culture as a Dacquois from the game's heartlands (Magne), a Basque (Harinordoquy) and an African-Parisian (Betsen).
Key figures in every French success in the two years since Harinordoquy broke through at international level to complete the trio, they were vital again as France became the third team to reach the quarter-finals following New Zealand and Wales.
This was a true hammering of the Scots, France's biggest victory in 76 meetings between the two countries and second in Scotland's 132 year history only to a 69-20 shellacking by New Zealand at Dunedin three years ago
Their likeliest opponents are the winners of the Ireland-Argentina clash in pool A. Should the World Cup however take its first seriously unexpected twist and despatch hosts and holders Australia to Melbourne as runners-up in Group A, France could feel pretty confident of beating them.
They have admittedly been given the perfect World Cup group - full of opponents who can stretch them without offering a real threat of defeat - but none of the favourites have looked as consistently impressive.
Scotland by contrast will look forward to next week's winner-takes-all clash with Fiji with considerable apprehension. Much will depend on their ability to reproduce the control and purpose that animated them in the early stages here, as they matched the French at the break-down and set pieces, Bryan Redpath probed purposefully and Gregor Townsend exuded the sense of possibility he offers at his best.
For half an hour Scotland were well in contention. Then came the vital breakthrough. Magne broke from the back of a scrum, Harinordoquy was at his shoulder, and carried on deep into Scotland's 22 where a floated pass found Betsen perfectly placed to cross.
Frederic Michalak converted, adding to the three penalties and drop-goal that made up France's half-time tally of 19 points to Scotland's six from two Chris Paterson penalties.
Scotland needed to start the second half well. Instead within four minutes full-back Nicholas Brusque had extended France's lead beyond two scores with a 35 yard drop-goal - and within 10 the back row had struck again, Harinordoquy charging over at the heart of an unstoppable rolling maul.
From then on it was a question of how many France would score. Solo tries for both half-backs - Michalak shimmying past two tacklers before stretching for the line past two more desperate challengers, followed by scrum-half and captain Fabien Galthie arrowing across directly from a scrum - in the space of two minutes midway through the half threatened a real deluge.
But with the game and quarter-final place won, France - who plan to play four more matches over the next month - perhaps inevitably eased off. The 78,974 crowd packed into the Olympic Stadium occupied themselves with Mexican waves during a final quarter which brought one further score - Brusque in the 79th minute chipping ahead, gathering and running down the left touchline to score.
Michalak, who underlined his extraordinary versatility in the final minutes by switching to scrum-half when Galthie was taken off, brought up the half-century, taking his tally for the night to 28 points from a full set of scoring methods - try, drop-goal, four penalties and four conversions.
With 78 points, and up to four matches still to come, Michalak looks a good bet to beat Grant Fox's record of 126 points in a single tournament, set in 1987
France: Brusque, Rougerie, Marsh, Jauzion, Dominici, Michalak, Galthie, Crenca, Ibanez, Marconnet, Pelous, Thion, Betsen, Magne, Harinordoqui.
Replacements: Merceron for Marsh (70), Bru for Ibanez (63), Tabacco for Marconnet (63), Brouzet for Pelous (80), Milloud for Magne (63).
Not Used: Traille, Elhorga.
Tries: Betsen, Harinordoqui, Michalak, Galthie, Brusque.
Cons: Michalak 3, Merceron.
Pens: Michalak 4.
Drop Goals: Michalak, Brusque.
Scotland: Metcalfe, Paterson, Craig, Henderson, Logan, Townsend, Redpath, Smith, Bulloch, Kerr, Murray, Grimes, White, Mather, Taylor.
Replacements: McLaren for Henderson (63), Russell for Bulloch (68), Douglas for Kerr (40), Hines for Murray (61), Petrie for Mather (35).
Not Used: Blair, Danielli.
Pens: Paterson 3.
Ref: David McHugh (Ireland).