Wasteful Lions suffer early exit
Heroic French defence in the face of a pink attacking onslaught condemned the Classic Lions to an early exit from the main competition last night.
The Lions squandered numerous chances both sides of the break and despite a desperate late surge were unable to breach the French line to clinch the winning score.
The final 10-7 scoreline was a fitting tribute to the physicality of the clash as well as the wall of blue that stood up to the wave of pink ball carriers hurling themselves over the gainline.
It was the French who stormed out of the blocks with full back Patrick Caumont stunning the crowd and the Lions to canter home for the first score inside three minutes after some neat interplay.
The conversion was duly added and the French held onto their seven-point advantage until the 15-minute mark when the Lions finally saw reward for their endeavours.
Centre Gareth King crashed through the French backline with a bullocking run before offloading to Richard Carter to sprint free and touch down.
Welsh fly half Ceri Sweeney duly converted a tricky kick to level the scores and the Lions seemed to have grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and seized the momentum.
They pinned the French inside their 22 for vast chunks of the first half but the final pass always alluded the men in pink as several gilt-edged chances went begging. It was the French who would have been the happiest to hear Jonathan Kaplan’s half time whistle having managed to restrict the Lions to the one solitary try.
On occasions the French showed typical Gallic flair and finesse in attack, but it was their defiant defence that stood up in the second half of a bruising and sometimes punchy encounter.
Crucially, they also took their opportunities; and when one came in the shape of an early second-half penalty within firing range of the posts it was slotted home to secure the vital three points.
It was three points that were to prove the difference between the two sides on a tense opening night of Rugby Classic action.
The Lions pounded the opposition line through the pick-and-go as well as the driving maul; but when the try line beckoned a French tackler stood in the way.
For the last five minutes the Lions camped themselves on the French five-metres line but the blue line stood firm; it repelled attack after attack until the mistake came when they duly cleared their lines.
The Lions team will be kicking themselves for some basic errors at vital moments, and at times it seemed they were their own worst enemies.
But to focus on their shortcomings would be an injustice to the French rearguard effort; they took their chances when the came along and defended as if their lives depended on it.
Louis Somner (1959-2018)
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