The last time France were here, in the Six Nations, they outscored England three tries to one and still lost. Last night it was all over by half- time as the Red Rose brigade hit the purplest of purple patches. They stunned France with 21 points in the closing stages of the first half, accelerating from 12-3 to 33-3.
Jonny Wilkinson was France's nemesis in chief, kicking 18 points and helping to make two tries for the impressive Ben Cohen. France were still all at sea when Jason Robinson helped himself to a trademark try, eluding a couple of defenders before scorching down the left flank.
France, who were in danger of suffering a record defeat (that was 37-0 in 1911), at least made a fist of it in the second half, restricting England to two tries while managing to score one of their own. It came from the dangerous Aurelien Rougerie, who provided Robinson with the only black mark of the night as the fullback missed a straightforward tackle. Overall, though, it was England who were unstoppable as they registered their 22nd successive victory at Twickenham.
France, fielding a very different combination from that which defeated England 17-16 in Marseilles seven days ago, actually struck first when England were at their most careless. Martin Corry missed a tackle on his opposite number Christian Labit and then Robinson fumbled a kick ahead. France's reward was a penalty which Gérald Merceron landed from an acute angle despite a background noise of booing.
At that point the French had no inkling of the storm that was about to engulf them. It began quietly enough with Wilkinson providing his customary service. The stand off levelled in the fifth minute after Patrick Tabacco was shown a yellow card for an illegal charge on Abbott. It was proof positive that Tabacco is bad for your health. Wilkinson kicked the resultant penalty and added three more, none of them remotely easy.
In between, England had shown that the French were there for the taking. Whenever the Tricolores punted the ball into England territory, they were inevitably greeted with the sight of Robinson leading the counter attack. The full back, following another multi-faceted move, nearly escaped for a try but was floored by a marvellous tackle from Labit.
England did not have to wait long to breach a fragile defence and they added 21 points between the 33rd minute and the interval. Wilkinson created havoc in the French defence with a perfectly placed grub kick. First on the scene as the ball bobbled beneath the French posts were Dimitri Yachvili and Will Greenwood and both, incredibly, failed to touch it down. Cohen, following up, did not.
It was the wing's 22nd try for his country and arguably the simplest. He did not have long to wait for his 23rd. Wilkinson was again the creator, picking up a poor pass but committing two defenders and Greenwood, with a lovely little pass, released Cohen on a 40-yard run to the line.
France were still wondering what had hit them when they fell to another sucker punch. Taking possession just inside the France half, Robinson, with a combination of pace and strength, easily beat Clement Poitrenaud and Xavier Garbajosa and sprinted smartly down the left wing for England's third try in nine minutes. Wilkinson, of course, converted the lot and in the process passed 700 points in international rugby. It was all over as a contest by half-time when England led 33-3.
England began the second half as they ended the first. From Wilkinson's kick-off, the French forwards tapped the ball back only to see it fall into the hands of Iain Balshaw. The right wing swerved inside and then out before touching down in the corner.
Strangely enough, Wilkinson missed the conversion and England had the luxury of being able to replace their invaluable No 10 as well as their captain Martin Johnson after only 43 minutes. Thereafter, France at last began to pose a threat and twice Rougerie came close to scoring.
However, all they had to show for their pressure was a penalty from Merceron and a drop goal from Yannick Jauzion, although in the final minute, Rougerie managed France's only try when he beat an attempted tackle from Robinson. In between, England had scored their fifth try through the replacement Josh Lewsey after Balshaw had come close to completing a hat-trick. The wing was cover tackled by Rougerie in the right-hand corner and then knocked on under the posts while attempting to catch a kick ahead from Paul Grayson.
England 45 France 14
Tries: Cohen 2, Robinson, Balshaw, Lewsey; Try: Rougerie
Pens: Wilkinson 4; Pens: Merceron 2
Cons: Wilkinson 3, Grayson; Drop goal: Jauzion
Half-time: 33-3 75,000
England: J Robinson (Sale); I Balshaw (Bath), S Abbott (Wasps), W Greenwood (Harlequins), B Cohen (Northampton); J Wilkinson (Newcastle), K Bracken (Saracens); T Woodman (Gloucester), S Thompson (Northampton), J White (Leicester), M Johnson (Leicester, capt), B Kay (Leicester), R Hill (Saracens), N Back (Leicester), M Corry (Leicester). Replacements: J Lewsey (Wasps) for Abbott 60, P Grayson (Northampton) for Wilkinson 43, M Dawson (Northampton) for Bracken 34, D West (Leicester) for Thompson 73, J Leonard (Harlequins) for White 63, S Shaw (Wasps) for Johnson 43, L Moody (Leicester) for Corry 57.
France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); X Garbajosa (Stade Français), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), B Liebenberg (Stade Français), C Dominici (Stade Français); G Merceron (Montferrand), D Yachvili (Biarritz); O Milloud (Bourgoin), R Ibanez (Saracens), J-B Poux (Toulouse), D Auradou (Stade Français), O Brouzet (Montferrand), P Tabacco (Stade Français), S Chabal (Bourgoin), C Labit (Toulouse). Replacements: A Rougerie (Montferrand) for Dominici 40, S Marconnet (Stade Français) for Milloud 62, Y Bru (Toulouse) for Ibanez 70, F Pelous (Toulouse) for Brouzet 58, O Magne (Montferrand) for Chabal 50, I Harinordoquy (Pau) for Tabacco 64.
Referee: N Williams (Wales).Reuse content