Ben Foden touches down for England after a nervy first-half [GALLO/GETTY]

England overpowered defending champions France 17-9 in a thrilling Twickenham showdown to take a giant leap towards their first Six Nations title in eight years and possible Grand Slam on Saturday.

Both teams went into the game having won their opening two matches and there was nothing in the potential title decider with the scoreline reaching 9-9 at half-time.

Ben Foden's 42nd-minute try combined with nerveless kicking by Toby Flood and his replacement Jonny Wilkinson ended France's eight-match winning run and gave England their a third victory in a row.

In the day’s other game, Wales edged past winless Italy 24-16 for their second straight victory in the championship.

Advantage England

The victory made it 10 in the last 12 at Twickenham for England over France in championship matches and will give them something of a psychological boost ahead of a potential quarter-final meeting at the World Cup later this year.

England manager Martin Johnson said that he was pleased with the victory.

"It was a good performance in that we didn't play well in the first-half but we were able to change our game in the second period and we could have had three tries," said Johnson, who captained England to their last Grand Slam.

"It wasn't as spectacular as our win over Italy a fortnight ago but I am very happy with the win."

Three Toby Flood penalties had England leading 9-3 after 20 minutes but three from Dimitri Yachvili ensured it was level at 9-9 at the break.

France showed glimpses of their talent with ball in hand but it was their aggressive forward play, particularly when counter-rucking, that had England on the back foot.

The home halfbacks, Ben Youngs and Flood, found it hard going against the powerful French centres Aurelien Rougerie and Yannick Jauzion as coach Marc Lievremont's tactics of beefing up his side looked to be paying off.

Poor execution

England's execution was their poorest of the championship so far with some wayward passing combining with the concession of some unnecessary penalties wasting their own good positions and allowing France easy shots at goal.

Yachvili did miss one just before the break and the scrumhalf had more cause from concern straight after it when his clearing kick was charged down by Tom Palmer.

England gained possession and moments later sent Foden in the corner for the first try of the match.

They thought they had the second within a minute only for Chris Ashton's score to be called back for a forward pass.

England were far more aggressive and stretched their lead to 17-9 when Wilkinson came off the bench to replace Flood and landed a long-range penalty with his first touch.

Rougerie blew a great chance for France's first try when he knocked on trying to dive on the ball over the line but it was something of a rare French foray as England tightened the screw.

When Yachvili sent a penalty against a post it seemed it was not going to be France's day and, despite their determined efforts during a frantic last quarter, England's defence was rarely troubled as they secured a hugely important win.

"I think we could have played better in the first-half but we made too many mistakes,” said England captain Mike Tindall.

"Sometimes you have to win ugly and they can be all the sweeter." 

Source: Agencies