Six Nations: France 22-24 England

By Tom FordyceChief Sports Writer at the Stade de France
Six Nations highlights: France 22-24 England

England took revenge for their World Cup quarter-final defeat and produced by far the best display of interim coach Stuart Lancaster's young revolution with a nerve-shredding victory in Paris.

Tries in the first 20 minutes from Manu Tuliagi and Ben Foden helped England to a 14-3 lead but France, with penalties from fly-half Lionel Beauxis, scrum-half Julien Dupuy and his replacement Morgan Parra, came roaring back to within two points at 15-17.

Tom Croft's fine solo try and Owen Farrell's dead-eyed conversion then looked to have made the game safe, only for a late try for the outstanding Wesley Fofana to again bring France within range of a remarkable win.

But Francois Trinh-Duc's last-gasp drop-goal attempt fell just short and England were left celebrating their fifth victory in their last six Six Nations matches against Les Bleus.

It is the first time in the tournament's history that England have won all three away games, and gives Lancaster's hopes of landing the coaching job full-time a significant boost.

It also means Wales are now strong favourites to take the Championship. Wales, with a +44 points difference, would need to lose at home to France by a large margin next Saturday and England (+6) beat Ireland comfortably to deny the Welsh the title.

England made the first incision at the Stade de France - Lee Dickson nipping through a gap after a fine take by Croft at the back of the line-out - but France had the earliest clear-cut chances, Beauxis slicing a drop-goal attempt short before Dupuy pulled a penalty wide from distance.

The fly-half had been brought in for his kicking game, yet it was a pass out to Julien Bonnaire on the right that nearly brought the first points. The big flanker crashed through two tackles before falling two feet from the line, and England snuffed out the sparks.

In the space of five minutes England's tyros then turned the match on its head.

France had numbers over on the left but a crunching hit from Chris Ashton on Dimitri Szarzewski turned the ball over. Farrell seized the loose ball, popped the ball up to Tuilagi outside him and the 17-stone centre thundered down the right and into the corner for only England's third try of the tournament.

Farrell clipped over a precision conversion and although Beauxis made it 3-7 with a penalty, England came again to brilliant effect.

Ben Morgan smashed and stepped through a statuesque blue line, barrelling from his own 22 deep into enemy territory. Finally floored metres from the French line, he produced the cutest of off-loads from the tackle to free Foden to crash through the last tackle and stretch out one-handed to touch down.

Farrell's conversion from in the front of the posts made it 3-14, and had his eminently kickable penalty a few minutes later not hit the post, England's lead would have stretched to 14.

Instead France came tearing back, Clement Poitrenaud wriggling through an invisible gap before a desperate tackle from Dickson brought him down.

Tom Croft try seals England win over France

It was frantic stuff, both sides turning ball over and flinging it about in breathless fashion, and France's old stagers began to find their range.

Ashton gifted France three points when his petulance after Aurelien Rougerie had clattered Foden turned an England free-kick into the easiest of penalties for Dupuy, and Beauxis narrowed the deficit to five points at the interval after Chris Robshaw was penalised for hands in the ruck.

France had been 6-17 down to Ireland seven days ago yet come back to draw, and had Fofana hung on to an attempted interception early in the second half the comeback could have accelerated again.

Instead referee Alain Rolland gave a penalty for a deliberate knock-on and Farrell, to a chorus of boos, made it 9-17 with unflustered accuracy.

Beauxis pushed a long-distance penalty of his own across the posts but as France looked to spread the ball left the game swung again.

Charlie Sharples, a late inclusion for the injured David Strettle, slapped away a pass and found himself sin-binned by the martinet Rolland.

If England's players were left wondering why Sharples was yellow-carded, yet Fofana let off with a warning, there was no time nor space to argue.

France threw themselves at England with renewed frenzy. Fofana sliced through and had replacement Parra in support, only to take the ball into contact and knock on.

The Stade de France crowd were in full voice, roaring Phillipe Saint-Andre's men on as the English defence was stretched this way and that. Fofana sprinted through the cover again and Harinordoquy came a few metres short in the right-hand corner.

Although the 14 men kept France out until Sharples returned to the fray, the pack then crumbled under a big shove at a scrum, were wheeled and Parra curled the subsequent penalty over from the right touchline to bring the deficit back to five with 15 minutes left.

That became just two when Beauxis banged over another from close to half-way after Rolland penalised England again, this time for a Foden infringement at a ruck.

England were wobbling badly, the French with all the possession and momentum, but with their first meaningful territory for an age England struck a wonderful counter blow.

Dickson's pass to Croft forced the flanker to stop and take the ball above his head, but he then turned on the gas to accelerate outside Rougerie and inside Harinordoquy to canter across the line to make it 15-22, Farrell again nailing a nerveless conversion from out wide for 15-24.

If that seemed likely to make the game safe, France had other ideas. With replacement Phil Dowson off concussed, Rob Webber was forced into the back row, and the irrepressible Fofana took advantage from a scrum five metres out to dive over in the corner.

Parra's brilliant conversion brought it back to 22-24 and took this most thrilling of matches to a heart-stopping crescendo.

France's forwards battered their way upfield, creating the position for fly-half Trinh-Duc's drop-goal attempt.

Inch by inch the forwards took it closer, until Parra spun the pass back, Trinh-Duc swung his boot and sent the ball wobbling towards the posts - only for it to stutter in its flight and die under the crossbar. Seconds later England were celebrating a famous victory.


France: 15-Clement Poitrenaud, 14-Vincent Clerc, 13-Aurelien Rougerie, 12-Wesley Fofana, 11-Julien Malzieu, 10-Lionel Beauxis, 9-Julien Dupuy; 1-Jean-Baptiste Poux, 2-Dimitri Szarzewski, 3-Nicolas Mas, 4-Pascal Pape, 5-Yoann Maestri, 6-Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 7-Julien Bonnaire, 8-Imanol Harinordoquy.

Replacements: 16-William Servat (for Szarzewski, 50) 17-Vincent Debaty (for Poux, 65, Poux for Mas, 75), 18-Lionel Nallet (for Maestri, 55), 19-Louis Picamoles (for Bonnaire, 69), 20-Morgan Parra (for Dupuy, 50), 21-Francois Trinh-Duc (for Beauxis, 74), 22-Maxime Mermoz (for Clerc, 37)

England: 15-Ben Foden, 14-Chris Ashton, 13-Manu Tuilagi, 12-Brad Barritt, 11-Charlie Sharples, 10-Owen Farrell, 9-Lee Dickson; 1-Alex Corbisiero, 2-Dylan Hartley, 3-Dan Cole, 4-Mouritz Botha, 5-Geoff Parling, 6-Tom Croft, 7-Chris Robshaw, 8-Ben Morgan

Replacements: 16-Rob Webber (for Dowson, 74), 17-Matt Stevens (for Cole, 69), 18-Tom Palmer (for Botha, 56), 19-Phil Dowson (for Morgan, 63), 20-Ben Youngs, 21-Charlie Hodgson, 22-Mike Brown


Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

Touch judges: Nigel Owens (Wales), John Lacey (Ireland)

TV: Jim Yuille (Scotland)