They had not won at Twickenham since 1987 and England had shown - albeit only for the last quarter of their previous two games - that they were a match for anyone once they found the right pattern. But Phil de Glanville and his men reckoned without Les Brivistes - Alain Penaud, Philippe Carbonneau, David Venditti and Christophe Lamaison.
There should be no surprise that the European club champions should have played a key role in what was a landmark victory for France on the occasion of their 500th international match and there is little doubt that England were given a lesson in finishing - both moves and the match. France showed great character to the very end, unlike Jack Rowell's charges.
Penaud, effectively playing on one and a half legs - he had not completely recovered from an injury to his right ankle - made good use of the fine service he received from Carbonneau. The outside-half supplied Lamaison with a stream of well-timed passes, or sent England back-pedalling as he thumped the ball into space behind them with his accurate left foot.
Out in unfamiliar territory on the left wing was Venditti, who plays in the centre for his club, a lurking menace to worry and distract the English cover.
Lamaison stole the show, though. In his previous incarnation against Wales he began the match at outside-half, but ended it in the centre. He looks perfectly at home anywhere, this time he was in the centre. He certainly got France's house in order once he sensed that England were sitting back too comfortably on their 14-point cushion.
Lamaison struck two telling blows in the space of eight minutes. First a cleverly weighted chip turned Tony Underwood around and set up Laurent Leflamand for his third try in two games.
After stretching for a pass that did not appear destined for him Lamaison stepped off his right foot to leave Underwood for dead, then switched his angle of run brilliantly, knifing right, before, as Will Carling crossed towards him, another shift of angle cut what was left of the England cover into shreds and he was over. Sheer brilliance.
As for Lamaison as the non-specialist goal-kicker, having converted both tries he had the last word with the winning kick, a nerveless penalty.Reuse content