France win ninth Six Nations Grand Slam
France weather an improved performance by England to claim the Six Nations title and their ninth Grand Slam. Three penalties from Morgan Parra and a Francois Trinh-Duc drop-goal ? all in the first half ? were enough to seal victory for Les Bleus. England were more threatening than at any time in the Six Nations championship and they took the lead with a sixth-minute try from Ben Foden. But for all the talk of French flair, the Grand Slam was ultimately secured on the back of a defiant defensive performance and a crushingly dominant scrum. England were the better team in the second half but only had a Jonny Wilkinson penalty to show for it and France held out to seal their ninth Grand Slam and first since 2004. Les Bleus, the outstanding team in an otherwise mediocre tournament, had been confirmed as champions before kick-off after Scotland's victory over Ireland. England had arrived in Paris with a new captain, a revamped back division and a determination to spoil the French Grand Slam party. They came mighty close. Leicester flanker Lewis Moody skippered England after Steve Borthwick aggravated a knee injury in last weekend's drab 15-15 draw with Scotland. Wilkinson was dropped for only the third time in his career as manager Martin Johnson attempted to inject some vibrancy into England's one-dimensional attacking game. Toby Flood took over at fly-half, Foden was given his first England start at full-back and his Northampton team Chris Ashton made his Test debut on the wing. France took an early lead with Trinh-Duc's drop-goal but England's new-look back division played with enterprise from the outset. It took them just six minutes to click and they did so in scintillating fashion with Foden scoring his first Test try to mark an impressive full debut. Flood whipped the ball to Riki Flutey and Ashton kept his cool under pressure and showed a deft touch to slip the scoring pass out of the tackle and Foden raced over in the corner. England were playing with tempo and variety. Tim Payne, Dylan Hartley and even Danny Care made key yards around the fringes, the recalled Mike Tindall crashed into the French defence and the roving Cueto was a danger on both wings. England lost Simon Shaw to what appeared to be another shoulder injury after just 15 minutes, immediately after he had conceded a penalty for diving over the top. Parra missed that effort but made no mistake from in front of the posts after Flutey was penalised for being off his feet. England's vibrant start began to fade in the heavy rain as France assumed control of the first period on the back of a vastly superior kicking game ? particularly from the wingers Marc Andreu and Alexis Palisson ? and with a dominant scrum. France had set the platform for Trinh-Duc's drop-goal with a charging run from Imanol Harinordoquy after England had been penalised at the set-piece. England conceded three more scrum penalties in quick succession, with Dan Cole fingered as the main culprit, and Parra needed no second invitation to open France a 12-7 half-time lead. The visitors had to make changes up front and did so during the interval, with Hartley and Cole replaced by Steve Thompson and David Wilson. With a fresh start, England were able to inject tempo back into their attacking game and Foden almost latched onto a chip kick from Care but the ball skipped on into touch. England stole the lineout from Harinordoquy inside the French 22 but they were driven backwards and Flood snatched a drop-goal attempt wide of the posts. After Cueto had run the ball back ? something England did so rarely at Murrayfield ? Ashton attacked down the left but decided to chip ahead and was beaten to the touchdown by Palisson. Harinordoquy piled forward again and Trinh-Duc was ready to slot the drop-goal when Parra inexplicably sent up a box kick inside England's 22 and with no chasers Foden claimed it comfortably. England had been the better side in the first 20 minutes of the second half but needed something to show for it against a defiant French defence. Mathew Tait's half-break was halted and Dimitri Szarzewski nicked possession back for France. Trinh-Duc cleared but Ashton decided to run the return ball. Foden was snagged but England won a penalty just in-field from the right touchline and five metres into the French half. Wilkinson stepped up to strike a monster of a kick and his effort dropped just over the bar and England had closed the gap. But France closed the game out expertly and Grand Slam glory was theirs.
* PA Sport
Published: March 21, 2010 04:00 AM