Wednesday 22 November 2017

England march on

England 17 France 9

Paul Rees

England remain on course for the Slam, even if there was little grand about their performance against the defending champions. The chutzpah they displayed against Italy two weeks before was in short supply, but winning without being wholly convincing is a trait of champions, as France well know after their victory in this fixture 11 months ago.

It was a game England would probably have lost then. They were vulnerable every time they scored, unimpressive receiving restarts, but it was their capacity to recover quickly from mistakes that took them to a third victory in three. Scotland at Twickenham and Ireland in Dublin stand between Martin Johnson's men and a first title, and Grand Slam, since 2003.

Marc Lievremont said this week how much he disliked the English, but he would have been no better disposed to the Irish after seeing his side penalised by George Clancy four times in the opening 15 minutes, three of which were converted into points by Toby Flood, who made it 14 successful kicks out of 14 in this Six Nations. Two of the penalties came at the scrum. Nicolas Mas collapsed the first and become embroiled in a dispute with Dylan Hartley, but running the ball out of their 22 from restarts cost England.

After Mas had allowed Flood to open the scoring, Shontayne Hape was caught in possession near his own posts and Dimitri Yachvili equalised.

Flood's passing was at times wayward and while he restored England's lead after Mas had taken out Youngs off the ball and extended it to six points when Sebastien Chabal, who looked off the pace, strayed offside, there was little fluency to the home side.

It was France who were better able to sustain pressure. Yachvili was the quickest thinker on the field. His goal-kicking took France level at the break, punishing first Nick Easter for handling at a ruck after England had again got into trouble running in their own 22 and then converting from nearly 50 metres after England had lost a scrum on their own put-in.

The interval came at the right time for England -- they returned energised and regained the lead within 90 seconds. Flood, feinting to the right, moved to the left and created an overlap. His pass was flicked on by Cueto to Foden whose line took him towards Francois Trinh-Duc. The out-half, though, got his timing wrong and Foden accelerated through his challenge, giving the covering Aurelien Rougerie no chance.

The score galvanised England and although Flood missed the conversion, only his second blemish in 38 kicks for England this season, Ashton was soon doing his familiar swan dive after coming into the midfield.

But Ashton was denied his seventh try of the Six Nations when Clancy ruled that Flood's return pass to Youngs was forward. It was a marginal call and it was Flood's last contribution before he left with an ankle injury. He was replaced by Jonny Wilkinson, whose first task was to kick a 45-metre penalty, overtaking Dan Carter as the leading points scorer in international rugby.

The game then started to break up as France took risks. Yachvili hit a post with a penalty, and when France did get over the line, Rougerie the first to Trinh-Duc's grubber, they failed to make it count with the centre knocking on. England showed signs of nerves despite the eight-point cushion, but they stood firm.


Scorers -- England: Foden try, Flood 3 pens, Wilkinson pen. France: Yachvili 3 pens.

England: B Foden, C Chris Ashton, M Tindall (cap), S Hape (M Banahan 75), M Cueto, T Flood (J Wilkinson 51), B Youngs (D Care 65); A Sheridan (A Corbisiero 23), D Hartley (S Thompson 66), D Cole (H Fourie 75), L Deacon (S Shaw 71), T Palmer, T Wood, J Haskell, N Easter.

France: C Poitrenaud (D Traille 51), Y Huget, A Rougerie, Y Jauzion, V Clerc, F Trinh-Duc (A Palisson 66), D Yachvili (J Thion 61); T Domingo (S Marconnet 59), W Servat (G Guirado 75), N Mas, J Pierre (M Parra 61), L Nallet, T Dusautoir (capt), I Harinordoquy, S Chabal (J Bonnaire 51).

Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)

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