Mon, Feb 26, 2007 - Page 20 News List

France on course for Grand Slam

AP , LONDON

Wales' Gethin Jones, left, and Ian Gough, right, fight for the ball with Serge Betsen of France during their Six Nations Rugby Union match at the Stade de France Stadium in St Denis, near Paris, on Saturday.

PHOTO: EPA

France became the only team in contention for the Six Nations Grand Slam with a 32-21 victory over Wales on Saturday while England lost 43-13 to Ireland. Meanwhile, Italy won their first ever championship game on the road, triumphing 37-17 in Scotland.

Bernard Laporte's French team, having already beaten Italy and Ireland, hit back from 14-3 down at the Stade de France and next faces England at Twickenham on March 11.

After David Skrela had kicked the French 3-0 ahead, Wales hit back with tries by Alix Popham and Tom Shanklin.

But France took control with tries by wing Christophe Dominici and Lionel Nallet and went into half-time leading 23-14.

Flyhalf Skrela stretched the lead and landed seven kicks in the game for the French. A converted try by Jamie Robinson five minutes from the end took the Welsh to within eight points but a penalty for France by Lionel Beauxis was the last kick of the game.

"It was good for us because we began the game with 14 points against us and it took [a] big heart to win this game," Skrela said.

Ireland fullback Girvan Dempsey, back row David Wallace, wing Shane Horgan and scrumhalf Isaac Boss all crossed the English line in the first meeting of the two teams at Dublin's Croke Park while Ronan O'Gara converted all three tries and kicked five penalties for a personal haul of 21 points.

Ireland's second victory in this year's championship keeps alive their chances of winning the title for the first time since 1985. Eddie O'Sullivan's team also remains on course for the Triple Crown of victories over its neighbors for the second year in a row. Having also beaten Wales, Ireland can complete that by beating Scotland in its next game on March 10.

It was England's first loss after victories over Scotland and Italy.

The damage was done for England when the Irish scored two first half tries through Dempsey and Wallace just before half-time.

Although Dave Strettle scored a converted try for England on his debut and Jonny Wilkinson kicked his second penalty, Horgan and replacement scrumhalf Boss ran through to collect late tries for the Irish.

"We're back in the championship and still in with a shout at the Triple Crown. We wanted to win our last game at Croke Park this year and bounce back after the sickening way we lost to France," O'Sullivan said in reference to the 20-17 loss also at Croke Park.

Mauro Bergamasco, Andrea Scanavacca, Kaine Robertson and veteran scrumhalf Alessandro Troncon all scored tries for the Italians at Murrayfield with flyhalf Scanavacca also kicking four conversions and three penalties to contribute 22 points.

Italy scored three tries in the first seven minutes for its first Six Nations victory on the road, the first coming after only 18 seconds after a charge down and the other two being interceptions.

Rob Dewey and Chris Paterson got tries for Scotland, while Paterson kicked two conversions and a penalty.

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