Five Nations 1999
Wilkinson kicks england to victory
March 20, 1999
Jonny Wilkinson lands one of his seven penalties
© Getty Images
The England machine grinds on, ending a run of four consecutive defeats by France and leaving only Wales between them and their foruth Grand Slam of the 1990s. But if Paris a fortnight ago was champagne, this was distinctly Pale Ale. A score composed of seven English penalties to a goal and penlty for France tells the whole story - immaculate goal kicking from the apparently nerveless Jonny Wilkinson, but little in the way of attacking threat. England contained the French with consummate ease, pinning them into their own territory for most of the afternoon. They were disciplined, while the French conceded penalty after penalty. And they never lost concentration.
But if machines are good for grinding on remorselesly, they are short of ideas and initiative. In spite of their wealth of posession, England's only attacking weapon appeared to be the angled cross-kick that brought their try against South Africa, and nearly paid off twice here. France, almost unthinkably, go into their final match against Scotland in danger of the wooden spoon. Recent history shows that while France are more likely to score tries in this contest, England score more penalties. Both teams seemed bent on living up to national stereotypes in a dull, frustrated first half as the French offended consistently but showed far greater fluency on the rare occasions that they broke England's stranglehold.
New Zealand referee Colin Hawke penalised France five times before finally pulling England up in the ninth minute. By then England were six points up and Wilkinson began an afternoon of immaculate goal-kicking by cooly converting the two penalties in kickable range.
The succession of penalties combined with forward control to keep England camped in the French half. But they rarely threatened to start adding points in sevens rather than threes. While willing to move the ball beyond inside center rather more frequently than in the Carling/Andrew era, their attacks were ponderous and mechanical. Wilkinson added a third penalty after 17 minutes, but the French were the first team to come close to scoring a try. Garbajosa, charging down the right, tried to leap-frog Perry for the line as the England full-back converged on the corner flag. The Toulouse winger touched down but appeared simultaneously to strike the flag with his backside, and England were reprieved.
England certainly should have scored just before half time when Hill charged down Carbonneau's clearance close to the line. But Catt, with a clear overlap outside him, went for the line and was pulled down a yard short. England finished the half with a new scrum-half, Dawson coming on after Bracken limped off with a sprained knee, followed shortly afterwards by referee Hawke who tore a calf muscle and was replaced by Scotland's Jim Fleming.
Castaignede and Wilkinson exchanged penalties within minutes of the restart but the same pattern continued. England continued to drive home their advantage, keeping France confined and adding further scores when they offended but they only threatened a try on the two occasions when the ploy of a hoisted cross-kick disrupted the French cover. On the first occasion Guscott knocked on as he crossed, then Catt was unable to gather a loose ball.
Wilkinson added three further penalties but the loudest English cheers of the second half were probably for popular replacement prop Victor Ubogu, winning his first cap for four years. Comba's injury time try for France was scarce consolation for them, but served to underline England's attacking limitations.