By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
In a nutshell
England outscored France three tries to one, but didn’t make life easy for themselves. Manu Tuilagi and Ben Foden touched down early in the first half, but it was Tom Croft’s effort – a burst through like the proverbial knife through butter – in the 70th minute that sealed this win. By that point, England’s indiscipline had allowed the French to narrow the gap. Wesley Fofana maintained his Six Nations try-scoring streak late on but Francois Trinh-Duc’s drop-goal attempt then fell short and England were able to close out a memorable win.
With Charlie Sharples in the sin-bin, Wesley Fofana produced a lovely break but his failure to pass inside to the unmarked Morgan Parra cost France a certain try as his subsequent knock-on allowed England to clear their lines. It was a decision that saw him berated by captain Thierry Dusautoir and will not make pretty viewing when it comes to video analysis this week.
Imanol Harinordoquy was given the official Man of the Match award and the France No 8 was immense, but I’m giving it to Tom Croft. Not only did he score the crucial try, showing a great turn of pace in the process, but he put pressure on the French lineout and was solid in defence, putting in a couple of important hits on Harinordoquy when the Frenchman was on the rampage.
Room for improvement
England definitely need to improve on the discipline front. They’re one of the worst offenders in the Six Nations and were lucky their high penalty count didn’t cost them a win in Paris.
They must also learn when not to throw risky passes. A few times against France, players were offloading willy-nilly and the French gratefully accepted the gift of loose ball. If Les Bleus had been more accurate in attack, it could have led to a seven-pointer.
As for France, they still seem a little unsure of their game plan in attack and often play as individuals rather than as a team. Their defence was also off-point and England were able to cut through far too easily. They will need to shore that up before playing Wales on Saturday.
In quotes – winners
England coach Stuart Lancaster: “I’m hugely proud of the effort all the players put in and it epitomised the character we’ve got in this side that we’re building. The players deserve great credit for coming to the Stade de France and getting a win. It helped having a lot of supporters here and back home screaming at their tellies. Great credit to France, they never gave up, but we held on for a fantastic win.”
In quotes – losers
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre: “Matches between France and England have a particular flavour, but this one feels a bit bitter. It did seem we were missing a lot of things technically and as coach I must take my share of responsibility. The last challenge for us is to go to Cardiff and stop Wales doing the Grand Slam.”
England have now won all three of their away games in the championship for the first time since the inception of the Six Nations.
England conceded nearly three times as many penalties as France – 11 to four – while France made 10 offloads out of the tackle compared to England’s three.
FRANCE: Clement Poitrenaud; Vincent Clerc (Maxime Mermoz 37), Aurelien Rougerie, Wesley Fofana, Julien Malzieu; Lionel Beauxis (Francois Trinh-Duc 74), Julien Dupuy (Morgan Parra 50); Jean-Baptiste Poux (Vincent Debaty 50), Dimitri Szarzewski (William Servat 50), Nicolas Mas, Pascal Pape, Yoann Maestri (Lionel Nallet 55), Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Julien Bonnaire (Louis Picamoles 67), Imanol Harinordoquy.
Try: Fofana. Con: Parra. Pens: Beauxis 3, Dupuy, Parra.
ENGLAND: Ben Foden; Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Brad Barritt, Charlie Sharples; Owen Farrell, Lee Dickson (Ben Youngs 72); Alex Corbisiero, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole (Matt Stevens 69), Mouritz Botha (Tom Palmer 56), Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Chris Robshaw (captain), Ben Morgan (Phil Dowson 63, Rob Webber 74).
Tries: Tuilagi, Foden, Croft. Cons: Farrell 3. Pen: Farrell.