Ibanez reveals French agony before last gasp ecstasy

RAPHAEL IBANEZ went through the whole range of emotions in the final heart-stopping minutes of France’s dramatic 46-19 success over Scotland, which clinched yet another RBS 6 Nations Championship title.

Twenty-five points ahead with four minutes remaining, Les Bleus — who needed to win by at least 24 to overtake Ireland on points difference in the title race — conceded a try to Scotland lock Euan Murray.

Ibanez, the inspirational captain and experienced figurehead in the French team, could see his side’s crown being snatched away from them.

“I fell to my knees, I didn’t know what to do,” recounted the Wasps hooker.

“I said ‘God, it’s over’. I couldn’t believe it.

“Then Imanol (Harinordoquy) came over to me and said ‘Come on, we still have another chance’.

“That’s what I expect from the guys, we help each other through times like this.”

Harinordoquy was right — deep into injury time, after a prolonged assault on the Scottish line, late replacement Elvis Vermeulen burrowed over for a title-winning try, France’s sixth of the game.

The video referee took what seemed like an eternity to deliver the news the majority of the Stade de France was praying for.

“We knew how big the decision was. It was important but we just had to be patient,” Ibanez added.

“I was okay. I had a good chat to the Scottish players, and they told me they thought it was a try — and then it was given.”

Picking up Six Nations titles is becoming commonplace for the French, who have won four of the last six on offer — two being Grand Slam successes (in 2002 and 2004).

This latest one took some doing though, according to Ibanez.

“We dug deep, to the bottom of our hearts, and went beyond our normal efforts to win it this year,” he said.

“We have true champions in our team. It’s still very difficult to win this title, but we wanted to wrap things up and go out with a bang.

“I think we did that. It’s very exciting, I’m very happy. What more can I say?”

France’s overall record for the 2007 Six Nations reads four wins and one defeat, the latter coming at England a week ago.

They have been the outstanding team in the tournament, and look to have recovered from their sobering results in the November Tests, which threatened to derail their preparations for the World Cup later this year.

Head coach Bernard Laporte promised from the outset that every member of his 40-man squad would play at least one game in the Six Nations.

That has failed to materialise, owing to injuries, lack of form and the need to play the strongest team possible in the last two games as Les Bleus sought another title.

Laporte claims the spirit among the squad is strong, and believes the seven weeks spent together at their purpose-built training camp in Marcoussis, just south of Paris, has been invaluable.

“The aim was to get more familiar with the players,” he said. “We tried to give as many of them as possible a game. We weren’t able to do that... but I have told them all that everybody in the squad from the beginning to the end has been important.

“We want to feel like a family, one big club going into the World Cup. I think we are now, and that is very satisfying.”

France scorers: Tries: Harinordoquy, Jauzion, Marty, Heymans, Milloud, Vermeulen. Cons: Beauxis 5. Pens: Beauxis 2.

FRANCE: Poitrenaud, Clerc, Marty, Jauzion, Heymans, Beauxis, Mignoni, Milloud, Ibanez, De Villiers, Nallet, Thion, Betsen, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy.

Replacements: Traille for Poitrenaud (74), Dominici for Clerc (77), Pape for Nallet (56), Vermeulen for Harinordoquy (77).

Scotland scorers: Tries: Walker, S. Lamont, E. Murray. Cons: Paterson 2.

SCOTLAND: Paterson, S. Lamont, Dewey, Henderson, Walker, Parks, Lawson, Kerr, Ford, E. Murray, Hines, S. Murray, Taylor, Hogg, Beattie.

Replacements: Di Rollo for Henderson (77), R. Lamont for Parks (53), Cusiter for Lawson (64), Jacobsen for Kerr (65), Hall for Ford (65), Hamilton for S. Murray (48), Callam for Beattie (53).

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