Six Nations 2013: Manu Tuilagi helps England edge past France
England 23 France 13: Manu Tuilagi's 54th-minute try helps the Red Rose to a narrow victory over les Bleus at Twickenham
Manu Tuilagi’s second-half try helped England keep their Six Nations Grand Slam hopes alive against a much-improved France at Twickenham.
Les Bleus edged a tight first-half which saw Owen Farrell kick three penalties, while Wesley Fofana scored a superb solo effort for the visitors to leave the score at 10-9 in their favour.
Controversially, France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre rung the changes after the break and England’s No13 smashed his way across the line before substitute Toby Flood added two late penalties to secure a Red Rose win despite Frederic Michalak’s best efforts.
With a bright start vital for France, the away side were immediately on the back-foot when a cheap penalty allowed Farrell to resume normal service from his boot.
Despite being winless in their opening two games, les Bleus responded in the fifth minute after the visitors failed to gain an advantage and Morgan Parra, restored to the side, slotted his effort between the posts.
It was a tight start befitting a game which pitted title pretenders against a wounded but dangerous side, and the visitors had the upper hand in the early scrums, earning a penalty.
With France probing England’s defence, Tuilagi finally offered the muted home support something to cheers as he bounced of Mathieu Bastareaud before crashing past three challenges.
England’s dynamic No13 was growing into the game, and when the Red Rose earned a penalty for a Louis Picamoles infringement, Tuilagi smashed through the France defensive wall before falling just short of the line.
Referee Craig Joubert brought play back for Picamoles error and Farrell edged his side 6-3 ahead with 27 minutes gone at Twickenham.
Top 14 star Fofana had been quiet but he soon emulated Tuilagi with a stunning try. The Clermont Auvergne star glided past Courtney Lawes before effortlessly brushing Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs aside to cross the England line in sensational style.
The home side were momentarily shell-shocked but another France error in front of their posts provided Farrell with the chance to erode away at the visitors’ lead six minutes before the half-time.
Facing his toughest half-time team talk of the championship to date, the Red Rose made the worst possible start to the second period when their scrum conceded a penalty. But charitable Parra inexplicably sent this effort wide.
It was a mistake punished minutes later by the boot of Farrell from a similar position and the home side looked to step up the pressure as Ben Youngs took a quick tap penalty to keep momentum with Lancaster’s men.
With Michalak replacing Francois Trinh-Duc, it seemed inevitable the much-chastised out-half would see France revert to their lacklustre selves from the opening two games.
A lapse of concentration saw the ball trickle loose and Tuilagi seized possession before tearing away to score his first try of the Six Nations and hand England a seven-point lead.
Farrell missed his conversion and Michalak registered his first points after an England error immediately from the restart.
Indiscipline was starting to creep into the match and Farrell was afforded another sighting at France’s posts, albeit from halfway, but the fly-half’s effort dropped well short and the Saracens man was replaced by Toby Flood.
Michalak, buoyed by his three points, produced a deft chip to take on the England defence as les Bleus finally looked to be making some headway, but the out-half was guilty of a knock-on and momentum ended.
With 10 minutes remaining, England moved to match point when their drive from the line out earned a penalty and Farrell’s replacement Flood made no mistake to leave France requiring a converted try to restore parity.
Lancaster’s men had steadied the rocking ship, and when Michalak’s abysmal pass ends another France attack, the Red Rose’s pursuit of a second Six Nations Grand Slam was secured for another week as Flood added another three points to seal a 23-13 win.