AUCKLAND, 8 Oct. - Imanol Harinordoquy gave a barnstorming display to earn the man-of-the-match award as France reached the Rugby World Cup semi-finals with a 19-12 win against England on Saturday.
Les Bleus avoided a third straight RWC loss to England with a classic performance that married France's twin traditions of backline flair and forward power.
Number 8 Harinordoquy and back-row colleagues Thierry Dusautoir and Julien Bonnaire bossed their English counterparts and gave creative players Jonny Wilkinson and Toby Flood a torrid time.
This dominance ensured England were unable to gain a toehold in the match until it was too late.
"They were magnificent," France coach Marc Lièvremont said of the back row. "I know Imanol quite well and at the beginning of the tournament he wasn't playing as well as I hoped.
"Imanol is a great competitor and so I left him on the bench so that he would be ready to start this match against his favourite rivals."
Lack of discipline
Lièvremont's side roared to a 16-0 half-time lead that they battled hard to protect in the second half, even though it took them until the 73rd minute to score their first points after the break with a drop goal from replacement Francois Trinh-Duc.
It was England’s lack of discipline that allowed France to build the platform on which they secured their half-time lead.
First Flood failed to release in the tackle to allow Dimitri Yachvili to slot the first points of the night after 11 minutes.
Then, when prop Matt Stevens was penalised for bringing down the scrum five minutes later, the diminutive scrum half added his second penalty for a 6-0 advantage.
"We controlled the match well at the beginning," Lièvremont said. "After they put pressure on us, we were able to relieve that pressure with our kicking game and that allowed us to get our game in order.
"I was very happy with the first half and it was a very good half in terms of discipline. The second half wasn't so good, but maybe it wouldn't have been the same feeling if England hadn't made it more difficult for us."
Pulled the strings
In only his third match at fly half for Les Bleus, Morgan Parra pulled the strings to great effect and played a hand in both of his side's tries.
The result made a mockery of claims the French were a side riddled with divisions and in disarray after losing heavily to New Zealand and surprisingly to Tonga in their final two pool matches.
"It's fantastic," backs coach Emile Ntamack said. "I am very proud of the boys tonight and the game they played.
"A week has passed since the very bad game against Tonga. Tonight was an incredible game. We have the potential and now we know that we can realise it."
England’s attack was based primarily on getting the ball to powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi and while the young centre was able to break through the French defence all too often he was left isolated or unable to keep play going.
Even after full back Ben Foden finally got his team on the scoreboard after 55 minutes with his third try in as many matches against France, England still failed to come to life.
Chasing the game
"We created more chances to score than they did," England manager Martin Johnson said. "We probably had three or four chances that went missing.
"They took theirs and took theirs early, so it left us chasing the game. Today we let it out of our grasp too early."
Left wing Mark Cueto’s try with three minutes remaining gave England some hope. By then, though, France had done enough to become the second side not to finish top of their pool to reach the semi-finals after Wales knocked out Pool C winners Ireland earlier in the day in Wellington.
France and Wales now meet in the first semi-final at Eden Park on Saturday, 15 October.
"Most of us realised that we were missing out on the opportunity to play in a World Cup for our country and some may only have that chance once in a lifetime," skipper Dusautoir said.
"I don't know if we played wonderful rugby, but we had 22 players who want to go on and now we must concentrate on the semi-finals."