England blew the Six Nations wide open with a memorable 24-13 victory over France.
Any one of four teams (Wales, Ireland, England or France) can now win the tournament and England will take huge confidence from a victory built almost entirely on spirited defence and ferocious scrummaging.
It was the adventure and flair of the French versus the pragmatic and conservative English in this titanic struggle. Ultimately the latter won out, with France simply making too many errors to seriously threaten Brian Ashtonâ€™s men. England played to their strengths, pounding up through the phases and utilising Jonny Wilkinsonâ€™s boot to either gain territory or punish Franceâ€™s ill-discipline with deadly accurate goal kicking.
England raced into a 10-0 lead, their first try coming after Jamie Noon put a monster hit on CÃ©dric Heymans, forcing the ball to spill backwards. Paul Sackey won the foot race to the loose ball against France flyhalf FranÃ§ois Trinh-Duc and Wilkinson added a penalty shortly afterwards to give his side the early ascendancy. France, however, rallied well, and a Trinh-Duc first phase linebreak was the catalyst for their opening five pointer. The pivot sliced through a midfield gap, and impressive scrumhalf Morgan Parra cleared the subsequent rucks quickly until Englandâ€™s defence was stretched too thin. Lionel Nallett picked and drove around the ruck fringe for the score.
France cranked up the pressure but England were colossal on defence, either dominating the collisions or forcing France into lateral attacks through efficient drift defence. Wilkinson and Parra traded penalties, before the latter kicked his 29th career drop goal and another penalty to put his side nine points ahead (19-10).
The France scrum had been under pressure for the entire match and fell to pieces in the latter stages, robbing them of an important attacking platform. Strangely, they changed their halfback combination, who had been really impressive, and the backline immediately lost an edge. They became increasingly unstructured and desperation was written all over their play.
A penalty from replacement scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili got his side to within a converted try, but it was England who held their nerve in the dying stages, taking the ball through 13 phases after David Skrela had knocked on in his 22m.
Eventually the France defence could no longer hold out, and Richard Wigglesworth crossed for a try that was met with wild celebrations by the England supporters.
France - Try: Lionel Nallet. Conversion: Damien Traille. Penalty: Morgan Parra, Dimitri Yachvili
England – Try: Paul Sackey, Richard Wigglesworth. Conversion: Jonny Wilkinson. Penalty: Wilkinson (3). Drop goal:Wilkinson