Manu Tuilagi scored a fortunate try as England remained on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam with a 23-13 win over France at Twickenham on Saturday.
Owen Farrell kicked 12 points and replacement flyhalf Toby Flood landed two late penalties as England inflicted a third straight defeat of the tournament on bottom-of-the-table France — Les Bleus’ worst start to a championship since they lost their opening three games in the 1982 Five Nations.
“We were a little bit slow coming out of the blocks. They scored a brilliant individual try and caused all kinds of problems, but credit to the guys, we stuck at it and when we got attack going we found space. It’s a great win, it’s an exciting time,” England captain and man-of-the-match Chris Robshaw said.
The much-improved France turned round 10-9 in front after Wesley Fofana’s superb solo score provided the only try of the first half.
The game was still in the balance, with England leading 12-10, when recalled center Tuilagi scored a try that might have been disallowed for a ruck offence in the build-up.
England, bidding for a first Grand Slam since their Word Cup-winning year of 2003, arguably got stronger when their replacements came on, while substitutes weakened France.
“I think we did well for 60 minutes, but afterwards we weren’t precise enough and made a lot of silly mistakes,” France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said.
Former France captain Saint-Andre reacted to a defeat by Wales by making seven changes and a positional switch.
Half-backs Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc returned, while Fofana was moved to his preferred position of center, with Vincent Clerc taking his place on the wing.
Up front, hooker Benjamin Kayser, prop Thomas Domingo, flanker Yannick Nyanga and debutant lock Christophe Simon featured in a new-look pack that forced England back at the scrum and frustrated them at the breakdown
Farrell and scrumhalf Parra exchanged early penalties before Tuilagi, who had to have stitches inserted into an ear injury, was brilliantly tackled by Parra just a few meters from the line.
Instead it was France who had a try, thanks to a brilliant 30th minute effort from Fofana, who evaded Lawes on half-way and sped past wing Chris Ashton before avoiding an attempted tap-tackle by Robshaw.
Fofana handed off scrumhalf Ben Youngs and the recovering Ashton’s desperate dive could not derail a run of more than 60m to the line for a great individual score.
Parra converted and France were 10-6 in front.
Farrell’s third penalty reduced France’s lead to a point and that was their advantage at half-time.
France were made to pay when Farrell edged England 12-10 in front with his fourth successful goal-kick in the 47th minute.
Tuilagi extended that lead to 17-10 as the hosts finally crossed France’s line.
Nyanga dropped a high ball and in the ensuing ruck the ball was kicked forward by Tom Wood onto England replacement Mako Vunipola.
However, South African referee Craig Joubert let play continue and the ball squirted out to Tuilagi, who powered his way over from 40m.
Farrell missed the conversion and shortly afterwards England’s lead was cut to 17-13 when France replacement flyhalf Frederic Michalak landed a penalty.