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Lievremont blames ref for French failure

France coach Marc Lievremont laid the blame squarely at the door of an Irishman, referee George Clancy, for his side's defeat at Twickenham on Saturday.

Lievremont conceded England had been the better side but suggested Clancy had been more lenient on Martin Johnson's team than his own and he was angry that England's No 8 Nick Easter was not shown a yellow card for handling the ball in a ruck during the first half.

"I have to ask myself, what would have been the referee's decision if a French player had killed the ball in a ruck five metres away from the posts?" was Lievremont's comment.

The coach was also bewildered by the penalties awarded against his side at the scrum and breakdown. "You'll have to ask George Clancy, because I didn't understand any of them."

France's scrum-half, Dimitri Yachvili was even more strident in his criticism of Clancy, after the referee repeatedly penalised the home pack for early engagement.

"I don't want to say it was a hometown referee, but it was almost like that," Yachvili said.

Lievremont did admit, however, that England were now the best team in the northern hemisphere.

"I said it before the game and I say it again now, I think England are better than us at the moment.

"We're very fragile," he said. "England were fitter than us. They are a good team, but they only won 17-9 and still have a step to go to improve their rugby."

Despite being the only team left who can win the Grand Slam, there were no fanciful thoughts in the minds of the England squad. Not only has Martin Johnson's teak-tough persona permeated this team, so too has his level-headedness, grumpiness even. Grand Slam anyone?

"That's crazy, no one has mentioned it in my presence," snapped Johnson.

"Why set yourselves up for a fall? Scotland won't give a monkey's about how they might win, a deflected drop goal in the last minute off the back of someone's head will do."

There were some long England faces in the changing-room after an imperfect performance. "I like miserableness," said Johnson. "It's a good sign."

England's defence was hard-nosed and reliable. At one point France out-half Francois Trinh-Duc attempted a daft, speculative drop goal for no other reason than he had become frustrated by trying to crack England.

France were up for the challenge, inadequate in areas but competitive, no one more so than the splendid Imanol Harinordoquy. They came close to a try when the ball eluded the grasp of the diving Aurelien Rougerie midway through the second half.

England also had chances, with Chris Ashton called back for a forward pass from Toby Flood at one point, then failing to hit the after-burners to scorch the last man, Vincent Clerc, instead attempting a long pass to Mark Cueto that was intercepted.

And now for the two-match finale, Scotland followed by a trip to Dublin.

"It's an interesting ride with a lot of hype," said Johnson. "We've not had that for a few years. People are loving it."

Quite. Just don't mention the Grand Slam. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

England -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall (Capt), S Hape (M Banahan 76), M Cueto; T Flood (J Wilkinson 51), B Youngs (D Care 65); A Sheridan (A Corbisiero 23), D Hartley (S Thompson 66), D Cole (H Fourie 75), L Deacon (S Shaw 71), T Palmer, T Wood, J Haskell, N Easter.

France -- C Poitrenaud (D Traille 54); Y Huget, A Rougerie, Y Jauzion, V Clerc; F Trinh-Duc (A Palisson 66), D Yachvili (M Parra 61); T Domingo (S Marconnet 59), W Servat (G Guirado 76), N Mas, J Pierre (J Thion 61), L Nallet, T Dusautoir (Capt), I Harinordoquy, S Chabal (J Bonnaire 51).

REF -- G Clancy (IRFU).

Irish Independent