Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Ireland wins, France takes title

SIX NATIONS RUGBY Ireland defeated England, Scotland and Wales to win the Triple Crown as France won the championship

AP , LONDON

Captain Brian O'Driscoll of Ireland, center, is tackled by England's Harry Ellis, right, and Andrew Sheridan during their Six Nations match at Twickenham in London, Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

France won its third Six Nations title in five years Saturday, even though it had to wait for Ireland's result before it could lift the trophy.

A try by center Florian Fritz in the 73rd minute gave France the lead after it had trailed 13-3, and the visitors held on to beat Wales 21-16 at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. Ireland beat England 28-24 at Twickenham.

France won the title on point difference. The Irish, however, won the Triple Crown -- by defeating England, Scotland and Wales -- and drew level with eight points.

Scotland was third with six points, two ahead of England and three in front of last year's champion Wales. Italy was last with one point.

"The trophy is coming back to France so I am very happy about that," France captain Fabien Pelous said. "The Irish win their Triple Crown so it's a good day for rugby."

The loss to the Irish means more trouble for England coach Andy Robinson, however. It was the third defeat in a row after his team had beaten Wales and Italy and appeared on course for a Grand Slam.

"We're doing a review and I'll be meeting with [RFU chief executive] Francis Baron to discuss everything," Robinson said. "But I've got total belief in myself and I'm not expecting to go anywhere."

France trailed 16-11 under a closed roof at the Millennium Stadium with seven minutes to go when Fritz caught a chip through from flyhalf Frederic Michalak to touch down. Reserve scrumhalf Jean-Baptiste Elissalde converted and kicked a late penalty goal.

Wales center Hal Luscombe's converted try and two penalties from flyhalf Stephen Jones had put the defending champions in front 13-3.

The Welsh led 13-6 at halftime and replacement hooker Dimitri Szarzewski began the fightback for France with a converted try early in the second half to narrow Wales' lead to two points.

"At the beginning of the tournament we didn't think we would win the trophy. But we worked a lot but we are bringing the trophy to France and I am very proud of my players," Pelous said.

After losses to France, England and Ireland, the Welsh finished next-to-last with the defending Grand Slam champions winning one match, against Scotland. Mike Ruddock's decision to quit after only two games appeared to disrupt the team, but it played well for most of the match against the French.

"We played really well but we couldn't hang on and couldn't finish them off," Wales scrumhalf Mike Phillips said. "We played some good stuff but I'm gutted we didn't win at the end. But hopefully we salvaged some pride and can take it on tour.

"It was hard to do the stuff we did last year," Phillips said in reference to the Grand Slam. "There are a lot of new faces on the team."

After the French victory, the Irish went to Twickenham needing to beat England by 34 points to win the title.

In a seesaw game, Jamie Noon scored a try for England in the second minute. But Shane Horgan leveled and also scored the game-winning try with two minutes to go when England was leading 24-21.

The Irish led 14-8 early in the second half only for England to hit back and the hosts appeared on course for victory after Steve Borthwick's try gave his team an 18-14 lead. But Denis Leamy caught the ball from an English lineout to score Ireland's second try and Horgan's late score gave the Triple Crown to Ireland.

"This is a stepping stone to bigger things hopefully. We'll celebrate it tonight," Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll said. "We needed the performance we've been talking about this week for the whole of the Six Nations and to put it in to win the Triple Crown feels good."

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