Planet Rugby

England conquer the French

23rd February 2013 18:43

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Mathieu Bastareaud Manu Tuilagi England v France

Brute force: Manu Tuilagi

England sidestepped their latest challenge on their way to a Grand Slam with a punishing 23-13 victory over France at Twickenham.

France were transformed from the sluggish side that were abysmal against Wales a fortnight ago - aggressive at the breakdown and benefiting from moving Wesley Fofana back into the centre after his ill-fated stint on the wing.

England were more clinical in the second-half and gained the lead thanks to a fortuitous try from Tuilagi, who enjoyed an excellent afternoon against his French counterpart Mathieu Bastareaud.

A brutally physical clash worth of its affectionate title, saw frequent crunching tackles whilst the scrum was a contest initially dominated by France, before England gained parity as the match progressed.

It was far from the greatest performance under Stuart Lancaster, but a crucial result that leaves England with Italy and Wales in their path on the way to a first Grand Slam since 2003.

Farrell opened the scoring for England after just two minutes following an infringement from Thierry Dusautoir at the breakdown.

France were unable to exploit a three-man overlap on the outside when Bastareaud knocked on, but with advantage being played Morgan Parra opened his account with a penalty from 39 metres out.

The visitors grabbed the initiative in the scrum to force England into conceding two consecutive penalties, with France benefiting from a smoother surface than the pot-holed Stade de France from a fortnight ago against Wales.

Both sides struggled to convert large periods of possession in attack - conceding penalties when faced by a physical backlash from the opposition at the breakdown.

An attacking line-out created the base for a promising English attack after Manu Tuilagi burst through the midfield, only for Farrell's chip across for Chris Ashton to go too deep. Farrell converted England's penalty advantage however to make the score 6-3 after 27 minutes.

Fofana then broke through several English tackles down the left flank to score the game's opening try, Ashton's tap tackle unable to bring the Clermont centre down as he crossed in the left-hand corner, with Parra converting.

Farrell hit back with a penalty to cut the deficit to one point with five minutes left before half-time, before Parra attempted to respond with a penalty of his own at the end of the half from long-range which fell wide to the left.

France showed no let-up in the scrum at the beginning of the second half, forcing the penalty, but Parra was unable to convert.

A punishing maul from England then handed Farrell the chance to regain the lead, with the Saracen again successful to move England 12-10 ahead.

England then furthered their lead thanks to Tuilagi, the Leicester centre snatching up a loose ball at the back of the French ruck to canter into the corner.

France struck back with a penalty immediately from the restart, substitute Frederic Michalak coming on to convert and leave the score at 17-13. More strict officiating at the breakdown from referee Craig Joubert handed England an opportunity to add more points, Farrell lining up a 48 metre attempt which fell low to the left.

A burst up the left from Picamoles had England scrambling, before Michalak failed to take a low pass having begun the passage of play with a perfect chip over the top of the English defence.

Another brilliant surge from Tuilagi left Bastareaud flat on his back in midfield, setting up a grubber kick for Toby Flood behind the French defence which was well fielded by Vincent Clerc.

England though were in the ascendency at the breakdown, with Michalak penalised to allow Toby Flood the easiest of opportunities to stretch the home side's lead. He made no mistake - sending England into a 20-13 lead with seven minutes remaining.

Another error at the breakdown handed Flood a further three points to give England a solid cushion heading into the closing minutes.

The home side's defence held despite a late French surge, confirming their victory on a bitterly cold night at Twickenham and condemning France to one of their worst starts to a Six Nations ever.

Man of the Match: Despite the presence of Tuilagi, Tom Wood was outstanding for England from the base of the scrum.

Moment of the Match: With a lucky break needed, Manu Tuilagi could scarcely believe his luck as he picked up a loose ball and scored England's first try.

Villain of the Match: Not the greatest of substitute appearances for Frederic Michalak, whose little errors gave up key points in the second half.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries: Tuilagi
Pens: Farrell 4, Flood 2
Yellow Card: Cole

For France:
Tries: Fofana
Cons: Parra
Pens: Parra, Michalak

The teams:

England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Mike Brown, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Wood, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 David Wilson, 18 Mako Vunipola, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.

France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Benjamin Fall, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Christophe Samson, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Jocelino Suta, 20 Antonie Claassen, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Frederic Michalak, 23 Florian Fritz.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Television match official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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