Six Nations 2008
Match report: England stun France in Paris
February 23, 2008
Date/Time: Feb 23, 2008, 21:00 local, 20:00 GMT
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
France 13 - 24 England
Attendance: 79583  Half-time: 7 - 13
Tries: Nallet
Cons: Traille
Pens: Parra, Yachvili
Tries: Sackey, Wigglesworth
Cons: Wilkinson
Pens: Wilkinson 3
Drops: Wilkinson
England wing Paul Sackey dives on the ball to score, France v England, Six Nations, Stade de France, February 23 2008
Paul Sackey dives in to score the first try for England
© Getty Images

England produced the latest shock of this year's Six Nations Championship with a deserved 24-13 victory over France at the Stade de France in Paris.

England revived their hopes of landing the RBS 6 Nations title by claiming a first away victory over France in the tournament for eight years. And fly-half Jonny Wilkinson was in world record-breaking form, slotting his 29th Test drop-goal as part of a 14-point haul.

Wilkinson also booted three penalties and a conversion after wing Paul Sackey's early try as England dashed French Grand Slam hopes to leave Wales leading the championship, while scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth also claimed a late try.

France captain Lionel Nallet crossed in the first half, centre Damien Traille kicking the conversion, 19-year-old scrum-half Morgan Parra and his replacement Dimitri Yachvili landed penalties, but England rarely lost control of the contest as they repeated their World Cup semi-final victory over Les Bleus last October.

The home side emerged with an immediate penalty after kick-off, taking play up to halfway before full-back Cedric Heymans blundered by kicking possession straight into touch. Heymans looked to make amends by attacking from deep, yet England retained their set-piece discipline and immediately punished the full-back with a sixth-minute try.

Centre Jamie Noon blasted Heymans backwards through a crunching midfield tackle, and when the ball bounced loose, wing Sackey reacted rapidly, hacking clear and then winning the race to score. Wilkinson landed the conversion, confirming a dream start for England as they led 7-0 and looked to pile set-piece misery on France.

The hosts targeted a wider game, looking to stretch England at pace, but New Zealand referee Steve Walsh kept a tight grip on proceedings and England endured few alarms. It was impressive rugby by the visitors, and Wilkinson extended their lead on 14 minutes through an angled penalty before France centre Damien Traille missed a 35-metre penalty chance.

England, though, suffered an injury blow on 21 minutes when flanker James Haskell, who had earlier suffered an ankle knock, departed to be replaced by Leicester's Tom Croft. It was Croft's Test debut, but the loss of Haskell was a major setback given his form during England's opening two Six Nations Tests.

And France, although it took them 25 minutes to stir, slashed England's lead through a close-range try for skipper Nallet that Traille converted. If England needed a warning, then Nallet's touchdown provided it, but a second Wilkinson penalty made it 13-7 as the World Cup finalists once again assumed first-half control.

It had been a trait of the Wales and Italy fixtures, and it was difficult to imagine lightning might not strike for a third time. Traille though, missed a second penalty chance, and England closed the half out competently, preserving their six-point lead.

The major question was whether England - ahead at half-time for a third successive Six Nations game this season - could maintain that advantage and thwart any French fightback. France, though, had to step their game up, especially around the close-quarter exchanges, and they established threatening early field position.

England were forced into defensive mode, but France hooker Dimitri Szarzewski blew a promising attacking position when he was penalised for an offence onopposite number Mark Regan. Wilkinson cleared the danger, and England could breathe again, despite France looking at their most threatening.

Regan, though, had lost his discipline, conceding a penalty that Parra - preferred to Traille - landed. It was to be Regan's final act as he quickly made way for Lee Mears, who replaced him with just 10 minutes of the second period gone.

France were now putting together sustained phases of play that asked questions of England, but a shocking tactical clearance by wing Aurelien Rougerie allowed the visitors some respite. England remained lively at close quarters, where open-side flanker Michael Lipman was a consistent presence, yet their cause was not helped by Wilkinson sending a 40-metre penalty narrowly wide.

Wilkinson missed another penalty on 58 minutes from almost an identical position, but England started to enjoy a degree of territorial control as Les Bleus sought inspiration off the bench. Parra's clever kick, aimed for Rougerie, pinned England inside their own 22 before wing Lesley Vainikolo led a breakout that concluded with France being penalised on halfway.

Wilkinson then slotted his 29th Test drop-goal, creating a new world mark and hoisting England 16-10 in front with 17 minutes remaining. France coach Marc Lievremont took off both his inexperienced half-backs Parra and Trinh-Duc as the clock ticked down, sending on Dimitri Yachvili and David Skrela.

Rougerie also departed, being replaced by Clermont-Auvergne's Antony Floch, before Wilkinson completed his penalty hat-trick to make it 19-10. Yachvili narrowed the deficit by booting a penalty six minutes from time, which was the cue for France to try and attack from deep.

England knew they had to close the game out, and they forced an attacking scrum from which Wigglesworth rounded off incessant pressure to claim a clinching try.

France (7) 13
Try: Nallet
Con: Traille
Pen: Traille, Yachvili

England (13) 24
Try: Sackey, Wigglesworth
Con: Wilkinson
Pen: Wilkinson (3)
Drop: Wilkinson

France: C Heymans (Toulouse); A Rougerie (Clermont-Auvergne), D Marty (Perpignan), D Traille (Biarritz), V Clerc (Toulouse); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Bourgoin); L Faure (Sale Sharks), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Castres, capt), P Pape (Stade Francais), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), J Bonnaire (Clermont-Auvergne), L Picamoles (Montpellier).

Replacements: W Servat (Toulouse), J-B Poux (Toulouse), J Thion (Biarritz), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), D Yachvili (Biarritz), D Skrela (Stade Francais), A Floch (Clermont-Auvergne).

England: I Balshaw (Gloucester); P Sackey (Wasps), J Noon (Newcastle), T Flood (Newcastle), L Vainikolo (Gloucester); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), R Wigglesworth (Sale Sharks); A Sheridan (Sale Sharks), M Regan (Bristol), P Vickery (Wasps, capt), S Shaw (Wasps), S Borthwick (Bath), J Haskell (Wasps), M Lipman (Bath), N Easter (Harlequins).

Replacements: L Mears (Bath), M Stevens (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), T Croft (Leicester), P Hodgson (London Irish), D Cipriani (Wasps), M Tait (Newcastle).

Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand).

Touch judges: Alain Rolland (Ireland) and Carlo Damasco (Italy).

Man of the Match: Nick Easter (England)


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