Rugby Union
England win Six Nations thriller
England survive a late comeback in Paris to seal a 24-22 victory and keep their chances of a Six Nations title alive.
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2012 19:45
England caretaker manager Stuart Lancaster has led the youthful side to three wins from three away matches [GETTY]

England's young team plundered three tries and held off a furious French fightback to seal a dramatic 24-22 Six Nations victory in Paris on Sunday.

England stunned their hosts with early tries by Manu Tuilagi and Ben Foden to lead 14-9 at half-time and France got to within two points before flanker Tom Croft ripped through the French defence for the decisive score.

France centre Wesley Fofana crossed in the corner with five minutes left to set up a grandstand finish but England held on to secure their third away win of the tournament and condemn the World Cup runners-up to their first defeat.

Stuart Lancaster's inexperienced England still have a slim chance of retaining the championship if they beat Ireland at Twickenham next weekend and France overcome leaders Wales in Cardiff.

Gutsy performance

"It's absolutely massive, the boys really dug in at times," Croft told BBC television.

"(It is) another great step for this side.

"We've only been together for this tournament, we've come on leaps and bounds."

France, who beat England 19-12 in the World Cup quarter-finals last year, were kept afloat by the kicking of Julien Dupuy, Lionel Beauxis and Morgan Parra before Fofana's late try.

"It's hard to come back against the English after such a bad start," French number eight Imanol Harinordoquy said.

"We clawed back into contention thanks to our pride." 

France manager Philippe Saint-Andre had changed his scrumhalf and flyhalf with Dupuy and Beauxis taking over from Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc in a bid to strengthen their kicking game.

The hosts had their first chance when Dylan Hartley was penalised for standing up in the scrum but Dupuy's penalty attempt went just wide.

England took full advantage of a pass by Dimitri Szarzewski that was intercepted by flyhalf Owen Farrell who found Tuilagi and the powerful centre sprinted 50 metres to cross in the right corner.

Beauxis reduced the arrears with a 45-metre penalty but the relief was short-lived as England won the ball from the restart and number eight Ben Morgan burst through the defence and offloaded to Foden who had the pace to reach the line.

Farrell missed a routine penalty that would have put the visitors 17-3 in front.

Instead, France narrowed the gap to eight points when Dupuy converted a penalty awarded by referee Alain Rolland after Chris Ashton grabbed Aurelien Rougerie who had tackled Foden after he had called for the mark.

Close game

Amazingly, France were only five points down at half-time after another Beauxis penalty awarded against England for diving into the ruck.

Farrell restored an eight-point advantage with a 30-metre penalty after a Fofana knock-on was harshly ruled intentional 10 minutes into the second half.

Saint-Andre added fresh blood when he replaced Dupuy with Parra, Szarzewski with William Servat and Jean-Baptiste Poux with Vincent Debaty.

England were down to 14 men when Charlie Sharples was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock down.

Centre Fofana, who had scored a try in each of his first three appearances, powered through the defence but failed to get the ball to the unmarked Parra five metres from the line.

Parra added three points after England were ruled to have wheeled the scrum and Beauxis kicked another long-range penalty to restore French hopes.

But the hosts were stunned when flanker Croft popped up in the England backline 30 metres from the line and shredded the French defence with a devastating burst of pace before touching down Fofana's try gave France hope and they went close to snatching victory when Trinh-Duc's attempted drop goal fell short.

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