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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 13:02 GMT
England's big match bottlers
Clive Woodward despairs as England lose to France
Clive Woodward despairs in Paris
By BBC Sport Online's Tom Fordyce

So England have cracked again when it mattered the most.

For four consecutive seasons, Clive Woodward's team have carried all before them, only to throw away the Grand Slam with a dismal performance in the crunch fixture.

"Are we cursed when it comes to winning a Grand Slam?" asked Austin Healey after the painful defeat by Paris on Saturday.

Trouble is, it doesn't just happen in Six Nations games. Cast your mind back to the World Cup quarter-final defeat to South Africa in Paris 1999.

So where exactly have England been going wrong?

England 15-20 France, 2 March 2002

England, so brilliant in outplaying Ireland a fortnight earlier, were tactically out-thought by French coach Bernard Laporte.

Laporte and his English assistant Dave Ellis had noticed that England were vulnerable on the outside of their defence.

Clive Woodward can barely watch as England lose against France
Woodward can barely watch as another Slam slipsby
They also realised that Jonny Wilkinson could not be given the same time and space as he had enjoyed against the Irish.

So Serge Betsen went in hard and low and repeatedly on Wilkinson, muting him so completely that the hero of Twickenham was substituted, a spent force, with 13 minutes to go.

And scrum-half Fabien Galthie made sure the English defence was pulled from corner to corner.

For France's second try, Galthie steered Olivier Brouzet into the right-hand corner before going back left for Imanol Harinordoquy to score on the opposite side.

England failed to establish the forward momentum or territorial advantage they needed, running from deep even when that tactic was shown to be ineffective.

England 14-20 Ireland, 20 October 2001

Having cruised through their first four fixtures in the Championship, England went to Dublin in confident mood.

When Jonny Wilkinson landed an early penalty, they seemed set fair for the predicted win.

Clive Woodward watches England go down to Ireland last autumn
Woodward watches as Wood ruins 2001
But solid kicking from David Humphries and a storming Keith Wood try rocked England back on their heels.

Unrecognisable from the side that had thrashed France and Scotland in the spring, they made mistake after mistake.

Austin Healey's late try in the corner gave the scoreboard a more flattering look - Woodward's men were never really in it.

"We deserved to lose," admitted the England coach.

"I can't believe how many errors we made. The line-out was a disaster in the first half and we never recovered."

While Neil Back chose to blame the referee, centre Mike Catt admitted that Ireland's desire had overwhelmed England.

"They wanted it more than we did," he said.

"We came under a lot of pressure and we threw it away, and you can't play without the ball."

England 13-19 Scotland, 2 April 2000

Scotland had lost their previous four games in the inaugural Six Nations, including a shock defeat by Italy in Rome.

England, meanwhile, had been in imperious form, thumping Ireland, Wales and Italy and winning an epic battle in Paris thanks to 15 points from Jonny Wilkinson.

Clive Woodward watches England lose to Scotland in 2000
Surely not Scotland?
But in the pouring rain at Murrayfield, England lost their discipline and shape in the first half an hour. They never recovered.

Duncan Hodge landed four penalties and converted his own try to England reeling.

Scotland coach Ian McGeechan's tactical thinking then denied them the chance to fight back.

"We kept England moving," he said. "We did not let them settle into a pattern, and we were prepared to tackle as well."

England 31-32 Wales, 12 April 1999

In front of a raucous Wembley, turned into a temporary Welsh home-from-home while the Arms Park became the Millennium Stadium, England raced into an early lead.

Three first-half tries pointed towards an easy victory and a first Grand Slam for coach Woodward in World Cup year.

Clive Woodward cannot watch as Wales beat England in 1999
How did that happen?
England breached the Welsh defence at will, and only the kicking of Neil Jenkins and indiscipline among the England forwards to give him the penalty chances kept Wales close.

England began the second-half as if believing the game was already won - but left Shane Howarth unmarked on the right touchline to allow Wales an early try.

Jonny Wilkinson kicked England back in front, but the concentration levels were to dip again - with fatal results.

With England six points clear and the game in its 83rd minute, Scott Gibbs took a short pass from Scott Quinnell and danced his way past four defenders to score to the right of the posts.

Neil Jenkins coolly slotted the conversion, his eighth goal of the afternoon from eight kicks, to give Wales a totally unexpected victory.

Links to more International stories are at the foot of the page.


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