France survived a brave fightback by England to emerge 26-24 winners at Stade de France on Saturday.
France went into this clash as favourites and looked to be making good on their promise after a spectacular showing in the opening quarter. Yoann Huget scored two tries while Jean-Marc Doussain kicked two penalties to power the French into the lead, and at that point England were on the verge of a heavy and humiliating defeat.
The 16-3 deficit forced England to take more chances, running from deep within their own half. It made for an entertaining contest as France were also full of running in the first stanza.
England fought their way back into the game with a try by fullback Mike Brown at the end of the half. Flyhalf Owen Farrell would miss the conversion as well as a later drop-goal attempt, but Brown's try had given England a boost and suggested a shift in momentum was on the cards.
France lacked physicality and precision in the third quarter, and were made to pay dearly. Farrell kicked an important penalty to reduce the deficit, and then a fantastic break by England No 8 Billy Vunipola set up centre Luther Burrell for a try under the posts. It was a play that launched England into the lead.
A well-taken drop goal by scrumhalf Danny Care extended the visitors' lead, and suddenly it was France's turn to play catch-up. The hosts were guilty of poor decision-making and a series of handling errors during this period. Their drop in physical intensity also begged the question of whether they could set the platform for a late strike.
As the French national anthem and cries of 'Allez Les Bleus' echoed from the stands of Stade de France, Pascal Papé's charges found some sort of answer. Their scrum muscled the England pack backwards and won a penalty, and Papé didn't hesitate to point to the posts.
Alex Goode would nail a penalty goal at the other end in response, but there was to be more drama yet.
Replacement Gaël Fickou rounded off a scything French run, and a conversion by Maxime Machenaud edged the hosts two points clear. It was enough to ensure they survived a brave but ultimately unsuccessful England fightback.
France – Tries: Yoann Huget (2), Gael Fickou. Conversion: Maxime Machenaud. Penalties: Jean-Marc-Doussain (2), Machenaud.
England – Tries: Mike Brown, Luther Burrell. Conversion: Owen Farrell. Penalties: Farrell (2), Alex Goode. Drop goal: Danny Care.
France – 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Pascal Papé (c), 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo
Subs: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Yoann Maestri, 20 Antoine Burban, 21 Damien Chouly, 22 Maxime Machenaud, 23 Gaël Fickou
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler
Subs: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Brad Barritt, 23 Alex Goode
Photo: Shaun Botterill/ Getty Images