England underway with win over France
February 15, 2003
Jason Robinson runs in to score
© Getty Images
England began their RBS Six Nations campaign with a 25-17 victory to avenge their defeat in Paris last year but their performance will have given manager Clive Woodward plenty of food for thought.
This was at best an average display from England against a poor French side with only one piece of magic from England's Will Greenwood to put Jason Robinson in for his score. Once again Woodward's side had to rely heavily on the kicking exploits of Jonny Wilkinson to pull the strings for what was their 19th victory in succession at Twickenham.
So often England's saviour, Wilkinson notched 20 points, including one intuitive drop goal, to take his record in Tests past 600 points as Woodward's men served warning that maybe this year they can take the ultimate prize.
Flags flew at half mast today in memory of the Harlequins youngster Nick Duncombe who suddenly died yesterday after contracting meningitus and the immaculately observed minute's silence was in complete contrast to Twickenham roar that greeted centurion Jason Leonard as he led the side out just moments before.
Sadly Leonard was forced form the field with an injury just past the half hour but already he and his front row collegaues had done much to define the story of the game.
The game began at a lively pace and it was England who eventually opened the scoring on the quarter hour with a penalty from the reliable boot of Wilkinson. However the tide soon turned when England's pivotal No.10's attempted clearance kick was charged down by Olivier Magne who then juggled the ball before crashing over. In a rare high point for France's flyhalf Gerald Merceron les bleus extended their lead with the conversion.
Wilkinson clawed three points back for the homeside shortly after yet another penalty against the French forwards. Wilkinson was not going to miss from the 22 and France coach Bernard Laporte must have wondered what his players were doing gifting him such opportunities.
Another penalty was despatched with similar aplomb a few minutes later as France's problems in the scrum continued. England continued to exert more pressure in the remainder of the half but a try still eluded them and it was left to Wilkinson to grab another three to send his side into the break 12-7 to the good.
England began the second half in a positive manner and they were finally able to breach the line after a prolonged period of pressure. Greenwood broke the defensive line on the 22 and a sublime pass behind the advancing French was met by Jason Robinson at pace and he obliged by dotting down. Wilkinson converted to add to his tally.
It was his boot that extended their advantage from another penalty shortly after and by now England's confidence was evident as they chose to run the next gift offered by the French care of the referee. They were unable to break down the defence so that man Wilkinson dropped back into the pocket to slot over a drop goal to stretch the lead to 25-7.
Woodward will be concerned about the way his side appeared to lift their foot off the pedal for the remainder of the game and they were duly punnished by their visitors.
First Clement Pointrenaud touched down in the corner but Merceron continued his off day by missing to be fair what was a difficult conversion. As France continued to push forward they were rewarded with another penalty but this time Merceron's attempt fell agonisingly short.
Some good work from the French forwards inside the England 22 kept the defence busy and left them stretched as the ball was once again worked wide for Damien Traille to grab the five-pointer. The French centre stepped up to attempt to convert his own try but his success rate matched most of Merceron's earlier efforts.
To their credit the French continued to push for more reward deep into injury time but England locked up shop for the night to preserve the remainder of their lead, lay down a significant Six Nations marker and provide a fitting tribute to one of their own so tragically taken from us all.
England: 25 Try: Robinson Con: Wilkinson Pen: Wilkinson (5) DG: Wilkinson
France: 17 Tries: Magne, Pointrenaud, Traille Con: Merceron