England, for the first time in their Six Nations history, won three away matches, leaving themselves a small chance to still win the 2012 championship after a dramatic and hard earned 24-22 win over France in Paris, doing what the Irish couldn’t manage a week earlier – Hold on to a well deserved lead, just by enough.
France, as usual, showed urgency only at the face of a big uphill struggle. They were 14-3 behind after a blinding England start, but controlled most of the Second half, including during England’s 14-man ten minutes. Eventually, through excellent kicking by Lionel Beauxis (although he did miss a couple), the lead was cut down to 17-15.
The second half was the same England we saw for most of the World Cup, including the 12-19 loss to France in the quarter finals. No imagination, hardly looking to play anything with the ball, and it was mostly a long and tedious attempt to slow down play and keep the lead, hanging by a thread. Wesley Fofana was close to scoring a try twice, but some big and crunching tackling kept England ahead.
Then came Tom Croft, in a fantastic display from the Leicester man, especially in his ability during the line outs, something the French usually excel in, intercepting two french line outs. He saw a rare gap in the French defense, scoring the third try for England in the match, another rarity. Despite Fofana’s try in the closing minutes, his fourth in four Six Nations matches, England hung on with more brave tackling.
Aurelien Rougerie came up with the ball late in the match to push France ahead in a try to get a win. Francois Trinh-Duc did get the drop goal attempt on time, but it was too short, meaning France’s chance was over.
Again, France waking way too late at home cost them the match. Last week they were able to secure a draw, but this time they couldn’t prevent losing to England in France for the first time since 2008, and England’s fifth win in the last seven matches of Le Crunch, stretching back to the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Owen Farrell was the hero early on, setting up Manu Tuilagi’s feverish opening try, running over a poor French defender at the end. Ben Morgan stunned everyone with his 20 meter run before offloading to Ben Foden, as the Northampton Fullback scored his first try of the championship. Farrell was perfect in his conversion duty, but made only 1 of 2 penalties. He had a chance to put England 17-3 up in the second half, but hit the post, starting the French comeback.
So England need a huge point swing in their favor to win their second consecutive Six Nations championship, something that hasn’t happened in over a decade. Wales, with a perfect four from four, have a +44 difference. England, with three wins and a loss, have a +6. Like we said, they need France, playing at Cardiff, to come up with something pretty special. England themselves host Ireland, who they haven’t beaten at home since 2008, losing six of their last seven meetings in the tournament.
England’s visit to the Aviva stadium a year ago ended in a disappointing 24-8 loss, which didn’t deny them the title, but stopped them from completing the triple crown and the Grand Slam. Ireland would love to play spoilers once again, but Wales play a day early, and the match would mean nothing but pride, which is plenty to play for nonetheless, by the time it comes along.