England 17-9 France, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 26
England keep Grand Slam dream alive
Graham Jenkins at Twickenham
February 26, 2011
England's Ben Foden celebrates scoring a crucial try against France at Twickenham
© Getty Images
England remain on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam after out-muscling France 17-9 in a bruising encounter at Twickenham on Saturday.
A second-half try from fullback Ben Foden proved to be the crucial score after a tense kicking duel between fly-half Toby Flood and France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili had seen the sides enter the break locked at 9-9. But Foden's score and a record-breaking penalty from replacement No.10 Jonny Wilkinson - who reclaimed the all-time Test points record from Dan Carter - eventually carried the home side to a deserved victory.
It was England's rock solid defence - spearheaded by captain Mike Tindall and Man of the Match Tom Palmer - that laid the foundation for the win, which left Martin Johnson's side two victories away from their first Grand Slam since 2003 and ended France's hopes of back-to-back Championship clean sweeps.
A superb early claim from Foden in testing conditions under a high ball provided the platform for an early England raid and while scrum-half Ben Youngs and Tindall were thwarted deep inside the French half the hosts claimed a minor victory at the first scrum. Tempers threatened to boil over as a result but they had cooled by the time Flood opened the scoring with the penalty.
The score served to sting France into action and their fired up forwards earned a penalty of their own from the re-start, with Yachvili levelling the scores from right in front. France were soon pressing again only to be denied by a stubborn England defence with the home side's scrum once again standing up to the challenge.
France's eagerness to disrupt England's expansive intentions saw centre Yannick Jauzion penalised for offside and Flood restored his side's lead from the kicking tee while the home side's own hunger for the ball saw hooker Dylan Hartley and lock Louis Deacon evade the cover inside the French 22. Although they failed to find a cutting edge the pressure drew another offside penalty that Flood duly slotted.
But a great take from Thierry Dusautoir at the re-start soon had England on the back-foot inside their own 22 and while he lacked support they came away with another penalty of their own after No.8 Nick Easter could not resist the lure of the ball at the breakdown. France were level midway through the half after an improved scrum drew the latest penalty from the England pack - Yachvili's kick from long range sailing over.
England's hopes took a blow with a calf injury to loose-head Andrew Sheridan, which saw Alex Corbisiero earn his second cap. The game bordered on scrappy as the bruising and frenetic nature of the contest took its toll, with Foden called on in defence to deny winger Vincent Clerc after a neat chip through. The chasing Yoann Huget then failed to fool the officials after claiming that he was brushed off the ball when chasing another kick.
France's pressure did bring some reward with referee George Clancy once again penalising England's work at the breakdown but Yachvili could only push his latest effort wide of the posts.
England made a dream start to the second-half with Palmer charging down Yachvili's clearance and his efforts were rewarded with a scrum. England turned the screw at the set-piece and Ashton was wrapped up in midfield before the ball was worked wide to Foden, who showed good strength to ride the tackle of Aurelien Rougerie and force his way over in the corner.
Flood was wide with the conversion but was soon involved again as he carved an opening in midfield for Youngs, who in turn fed winger Mark Cueto, but the play was called back for a forward pass. It was a minor setback for an England side that had notably raised the tempo of the game.
Tindall and centre partner Shontayne Hape spearheaded the next attack only for the ball to be scrambled away before Wilkinson entered the fray. His first duty was to kick a long-range penalty to extend England's lead and re-write the record books. But England's indiscipline handed France an immediate chance to reply but this time Yachvili hit the post before the ball was claimed by Tindall and cleared.
France fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc then saw a desperate-looking drop goal attempt charged down but his next effort with the boot was more successful - Rougerie climbing highest to claim the ball in the England 22. France's reward was the scrum feed and Trinh-Duc then threaded a ball through the England defence only for Rougerie to agonisingly fail to claim an all-important try.
France continued to ring the changes in the hope of sparking a late revival with Morgan Parra and Damien Traille forming a new half-back partnership while replacement hooker Steve Thompson also took to the field to claim the England cap record for his position. Ashton scythed through with 10 minutes of the game remaining after another great supporting run but could not find replacement scrum-half Danny Care on his inside, or Cueto outside him, and Huget grabbed his side a lifeline by flicking the ball away.
But England were not done with a sweeping passing move taking them over only for a double movement call against Tindall. In the blink of an eye Wilkinson was snuffing out the danger in the shadow of his own posts. The visitors could not be faulted for effort as the game entered the final five minutes but England's defence proved more than a match time and time again to preserve the hosts' Grand Slam dreams while vanquishing those of their rivals.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.