PARIS, March 21 – France sealed their first Six Nations Grand Slam in six years when they weathered an England storm to run out 12-10 winners at the Stade de France on Saturday.Three Morgan Parra penalties and a Francois Trinh-Duc drop-goal were sufficient for a France team that had already seen off Italy (46-20), Wales (20-26), Ireland (33-10) and Scotland (9-18).
France coach Marc Lievremont said that it made him immensely proud to have coached France to a ninth Grand Slam success.
"It is a moment of great pride for me and for the squad," said the 41-year-old.
"I thought for a while we were afraid of winning the match. The English largely dominated but we had the nerve in the end to hold on," added Lievremont, who has silenced his critics in fine style. Related article: Lievremont takes pride in Grand Slam win
Captain Thierry Dusautoir, captaining them for the 10th time since replacing Lionel Nallet, was also bursting with pride as they ended a run of defeats to England in competitive matches dating back to 2006.
"I feel huge pride in what has happened tonight. It was really tough tonight but we hung in there and for us this evening is hard to put in to words but it is a massive achievement."
A fluid start by England promised something special from a side that has been roundly criticised for its boring play.
But that fluidity was only really on show in the first and last quarters, as France upped their rush defence and were happy to sit back, soak up the pressure and gradually take control of the middle portion of the match.
England, who had drawn with Scotland (15-15), lost to Ireland (16-20), and beaten Italy (17-12) and Wales (30-17), scored an early try through Ben Foden, converted by Toby Flood. Replacement Jonny Wilkinson scored a late penalty.
Trinh-Duc opened the scoring with a neatly-taken drop-goal in the fourth minute after impressive French No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy drove into England’s 22-metre area.
But England hit straight back with full-back Foden the welcome recipient of some swift midfield give-and-take, the last by solid debutant Chris Ashton, to slide unfettered into the left corner, Flood nailing the touch-line conversion.
The visitors, with scrum-half Danny Care and Foden to the fore, took the game to the home side, for whom Parra missed a 45-metre penalty after 13 minutes.
While centre Mike Tindall offered a more robust defence against the imposing figure of Mathieu Bastareaud, he was penalised for not rolling away in the 18th minute, and Parra cut the deficit to one point with a penalty.
Dan Cole, who came under increasing pressure from Thomas Domingo, was then penalised for collapsing a scrum and Parra moved France into the lead with his second penalty.
A further Cole infringement at the scrum handed Parra another easy chance as France moved out to a 12-7 half-time lead.
Cole and hooker Dylan Hartley made way for David Wilson and Steve Thompson as England tried to shore up their creaking scrum in the second-half.
Care’s clever box kick into unguarded French territory almost paid off for the chasing Foden but the ball rolled into touch.
Ashton also had a chance but arguably chipped too early over Clement Poitrenaud, allowing the French full-back to race back and snuff out the danger.
England’s game degenerated into a procession of ugly pick-and-go’s in a scrappy game in which the heavy rain saw a number of spilt balls at a packed and expectant Stade de France.
But the visitors were seemingly buoyed by France’s lack of attacking spirit in the last quarter which was marked by some wasteful kicking away of possession, to the catcalls of the notoriously fickle French crowd.
Mark Cueto broke through but could not find Ashton on the wing, and the pressure finally told when Wilkinson kicked a 67th minute penalty after Parra failed to roll away after bringing down Cueto on the other side of the field.
France ground out the final five minutes for a result that was a lot closer than it should have been, but one which secured ‘Les Bleus’ a first Grand Slam since 2004.