England beat France to stay on track for Grand Slam
Fitness and fighting qualities took England to victory over France at Twickenham. The Grand Slam remains a possibility although this was an uncertain and uneven display, with England struggling to find any cohesion in a first half which the French edged 10-9 and should have led by a wider margin.
France were much better than in their previous Six Nations matches this year and caused England problems with their ability to shift the point of attack quickly. They began to lose control once coach Philippe Saint-Andre started to experiment with substitutions. Saint-Andre had made eight changes from the team that lost to Wales, but as he began to replace his newcomers, his side lost its shape.
Stuart Lancaster’s side showed more strength and commitment in the second half, although the turning point was a controversial Manu Tuilagi try after a ricochet from Vunipola who was in an offside position.
The French were subdued in the final quarter as England increased their lead and ground out their victory. Toby Flood, a replacement for Owen Farrell who limped off, kicked two conclusive penalties It was not the fluent rugby that had been seen against New Zealand, Scotland and Ireland, but it was a win.
Lancaster admitted that the French substitutions had helped his team. "As a coach you focus on your own substitutions," he said, "but you cast a glance at the ones they are making. I thought it played into our hands. Our defence just got stronger."
Captain Chris Robshaw admitted England had not been at their best. "We were a little bit slow coming out of the blocks," he said. "They caused all kinds of problems, we expected that. Our defence in the first half was pretty sloppy. Once we sorted that out it was pretty good."
If England can overcome Italy in their next match, their visit to Cardiff will be a Grand Slam decider, with the Welsh still nursing hopes of winning the Six Nations themselves.