France beat England to claim Six Nations title
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France claimed the ninth Grand Slam in their history with a laboured 12-10 win over England in Paris on Saturday. In front of a boisterous crowd of 80,066 supporters, Marc Lièvremont's side failed to sparkle but did just enough to secure victory on a rain-sodden night at the Stade de France.
Three first-half penalties by Morgan Parra and a François Trinh-Druch drop goal were sufficient after Ben Foden had scored an early try for the visitors.
Having been assured of winning the Six Nations title following Ireland's surprise to Scotland earlier in the day, France were expected to sweep aside an English side that had looked uninspiring throughout the tournament.
But Martin Johnson's team came close to spoiling the party by taking the game to the hosts in an impressive display.
Interview: French defensive coach David Ellis
England had won the previous four meetings between the sides, including the 2007 World Cup semi-final in Paris and a comprehensive 34-10 win in Twickenham last season.
But it was France who drew first blood when Trinh-Duc struck an excellent drop goal.
That score should have settled early French nerves but instead England hit back immediately with a sixth-minute try.
After working the ball quickly across the pitch, Ben Foden had acres of space to dive home. Toby Flood converted from a difficult angle to give England a 7-3 advantage.
As the rain poured down, France eventually settled and on 18 minutes Parra reduced the deficit with a penalty.
The home side's power in the scrum was telling and earned them another two penalties before half-time. Parra slotted both of them over to give Les Bleus a healthy 12-7 lead at the break.
England were being brave in possession, however, and they were stopped just short of the French try line on a couple of occassions early in the second period.
Jonny Wilkinson, who plays his rugby in France, was introduced on the hour and he showed his class when England were awarded their first penalty within kicking distance six minutes later. From way out on the right near the halfway line, his effort had just enough power to to drop over and move England to within two points.
But despite being held scoreless in the second half, France held on to win their first Grand Slam in six years.
Interview: England player Mike Tindall
After the game, their defensive coach David Ellis said he felt the conditions played into England's hands.
“It was like a case of déjà vu when they scored early on in the game, similar to the World Cup semi-final here in 2007 and similar to the Six Nations in 2008 as well. But I wasn't too upset with that. I think we pulled things together, we got the defence back under structure again and then the longer the game went on we were solid in defence.
“They came back into it a little bit in the second half and it was like a bit of an arm wrestle. We just held on. We got a bit nervous on occasions but that's just only normal.”
English centre Mike Tindall said the fact that his side had nothing to play for but pride had helped them play a more adventurous game.
“Of course, it gives you the freedom to have a go but also the freedom that it doesn't matter if it goes wrong," he said.
"The French were under a lot of pressure and then we added pressure with the way that we defended and the way that we tried to get under their skin. It worked for us. We created a few opportunities at our end and unfortunately didn't take them.”
The future of French rugby looks bright, however, and Ellis was enthusiastic when asked how far he feels the current side can go.
“The sky's the limit really. When you've got half-backs as young as we have, Alex Lapandry that come on 19, 20-years-old, you've got Fabien Barcella to come back and [...] a load more players, then just over a year before the next World Cup it's very promising.”
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