First-half tries from Manu Tuilagi and Ben Foden set the tone for a memorable England showing, while flanker Tom Croft added a score after the break as Lancaster’s men recovered from their Twickenham loss against Wales to keep their Six Nations hopes alive.
With more than three times as many caps to their names as England, France were expected to repeat their recent winning performance at the World Cup and overturn Lancaster’s men.
But England had other ideas and bossed the opening 20 minutes in Paris as Owen Farrell pulled the strings for the visitors dominating both possession and territory.
France should have gone ahead in the eighth minute but scrum-half Julien Dupuy missed his kick at goal after England had been penalised at the scrum for Dylan Hartley popping up.
Just three minutes later France were held up just inches short of the England try-line as Julien Bonnaire was agonisingly short out wide and from the resulting drive the visitors were awarded a penalty for a home indiscretion, allowing Farrell to clear his lines.
Suddenly under pressure and on the back-foot – Tuilagi produced a moment of magic out of nothing to go over in the corner on 15 minutes as a French knock-on allowed Farrell to recycle the ball and feed the Leicester centre for a 30m run to the line, with the Saracens fly-half adding the extras.
Lancaster will have been frustrated as just seconds later England conceded a needless penalty and allowed Lionel Beauxis to put three points on the board for the French.
It got even better though for England on 17 minutes as a bulldozing run from Scarlets powerhouse Ben Morgan saw the No. 8 feed Northampton full-back Foden on the French 22 to squeeze his way over the French try-line – again Farrell added the extra two points.
And England should have been further ahead before the half-hour mark but Farrell missed a straight forward penalty in front of the posts that cannoned back off the woodwork.
England needlessly shot themselves in the foot just before the half-time whistle as a free-kick for a late challenge from Aurelien Rougerie in the visitor’s 22 was reversed in favour of a penalty to the French as Northampton’s out-of-sorts winger Chris Ashton reacted to the chase.
Dupuy needed no second invitation to slot over the resulting simple kick and drag France further back into the contest.
England boss Lancaster will be fuming though about some late indiscipline in the half as England were penalised further for hands in the ruck and Beauxis reduced the deficit to 14-9 at the break.
France started like an express train after the break and England suddenly found themselves on the back foot and pegged back in their own half for the opening minutes after the break.
But a fortuitous penalty after 50 minutes for a deliberate knock-on by Wesley Fofana saw England break out and extend their lead further through the boot of Farrell.
The game turned on its head minutes later though as Beauxis missed a penalty attempt to drag France back into the game, while shortly after Sharples on his England full debut was yellow carded as the Gloucester man was penalised for a deliberate knock-on.
The extra man handed France the advantage for ten minutes and centre Fofana should have scored a try before the hour for the home side but the Clermont man failed to spot inside runners and knocked the ball on under pressure from prop Dan Coles.
With Sharples still in the bin, France’s numerical advantage continued to cause England problems and it was out wide again that the home side should have registered their first try of the afternoon.
After dragging England from side-to-side following a break from Imanol Harinordoquy, Clement Poitrenaud was penalised for a forward pass with the line in his sights.
Frustratingly for Lancaster’s men, just seconds after England were restored to their full complement, they were penalised at the scrum, allowing Morgan Parra to reduce the deficit to 17-12 with less than 15 minutes remaining.
And it got worse for England two minutes later as Foden was turned by veteran French flanker Harinordoquy returning a French kick and Beauxis dragged the home side back to within two with a long-range penalty.
With England on the ropes and in danger of capitulating – Leicester flanker Croft produced a moment of magic with ten minutes remaining – breaking the French line and outwitting Rougerie to score in the corner after rounding last-man Poitrenaud with a sidestep.
Farrell showed just why he has been compared to legendary England kicker Jonny Wilkinson – demonstrating nerves of steel to add the extras and take the visitors two scores ahead of France.
France came within inches of getting a score back as replacement Phil Dowson demonstrated immense bravery on the line to hold the opposition up but from the resulting scrum Fofana went over in the corner to set up a nervy finale – crucially Parra added the extras.
With seconds on the clock France had an opportunity to win it but back in the pocket replacement Francois Trinh-Duc saw his drop kick attempt land agonisingly short of the posts as England celebrated a famous win.
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