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Well then. A game of two halves, the first half lasting longer than the second. Yes, I know. England won in the end, but the comfort they enjoyed in those last 25 minutes or so shouldn’t disguise the discomfort that preceded it. France were brilliantly combative for the first 50 minutes, a massive, enormous improvement on their first two displays, and seemed to have the edge until they took off the excellent Trinh-Duc and brought on the haphazard Michalak, the first of the replacements, none of which helped them. Inarguably, though, England had the stronger squad. Still the home side may well have lost, but for a couple of extremely lucky moments – an easily convertible penalty that Vunipola should have given away in the second half but the referee failed to spot, and of course the try, with an offside in the build-up.
That’s all from me. Thanks for your company. Bye!
Stuart Lancaster speaks: “It was a proper Test match, there’s no doubt about it. That wasn’t the France team that played a couple of weeks ago, it was a really strong, well-motivated French team. By the end we were controlling the game, but it was a lot of hard work to get there. Our composure grew in the second half. Our subs made a big difference when they came on, and that helped us. I thought we gained ascendency at that point. As a coach I’m thinking about my own substitutions. I guess they wanted to break the game up but they played into our hands. We’ll enjoy tonight. It’s been a real tough Test match, it’s a great win for us.”
Chris Robshaw, the man of the match, speaks: “We were a little bit slow coming out of the blocks. They caused us all kinds of problems, we expected that. But we stuck at it, and once we got the attack going we found space. But it’s a great win, and an outstanding time. All games are kind of won in the last 20 minutes or so, and it’s about building pressure in the first 60 minutes or so. Luckily we got a few penalties near the end to give us a bit of daylight. We’ll enjoy tonight for what it is. It’s an exciting time. We come back here to another full house. Looking forward.”
Final score: England 23-13
80+2 min Maestri drops the ball, and Ashton collects and runs out of play. There’s a bit of pushing, a bit of shoving, and then a whistle.
80+1 min Cole is yellow carded as the 80 minutes ends, and France keep the ball alive, seeking consolation.
79 min “The problem with MBM is that in a close game (like this one) it’s hard to tell from your comments whether the two teams are equally excellent or equally mediocre,” writes Michael Matthews. “Can you give illumination, please?” France were the better team for the first 50 minutes, even if they weren’t winning at the end of that time. They were bright, strong, organised. They had a plan, a team. They did not have a bench.
England 23-13 France
77 min And that’s that. Before the game Stuart Lancaster told the BBC “we’ve got a bench who we think will make an impact in the second half”, and so it’s proved. The game has been won by the replacements.
76 min Fritz’s first significant action sees him refuse to let go of the ball, and England win another penalty.
75 min Michalak’s misplaced pass hands possession to England. The French are collapsing here, having turned the first hour into a fierce and very engaging battle.
England 20-13 France
73 min Flood does the business, and England are starting to take a measure of control. Bastareaud has steamed his last roll, Florian Fritz replacing him.
73 min Penalty to England, central and 40 yards out, after a France player (didn’t see who) didn’t roll away.
71 min Care’s little kick doesn’t help England much, but it does play Huget into trouble. He deals with it well.
70 min France win a penalty deep in their own half, find touch well, but then lose their line-out, and knock on in their desperation to take the ball back.
69 min Consensus is that in Parra and Tranh-Duc France had the game’s outstanding players, and have taken them off, handing England the advantage. It’s still terribly close, but is the balance swinging from England (just) to England (more easily)?
68 min A lovely, diving interception from Robshaw gets the crowd excited. France have brought Machenaud on for Parra.
67 min England kick the ball along the ground, but Clerc gets there first (and gets a kick in the arse for his pains).
65 min France bring on Suta and Ducalcon. “Despite the big hits, England have missed a lot of tackles today,” writes @Techn0phobe on Twitter (about 10 minutes ago). “Courtney L seemed to run past his man and grapple backwards.”
65 min A manic few minutes of constant possession-changing ends with a fine run from Picamoles down the right, and then Michalak knocking on.
61 min Farrell is off! First he’s pictured, hands on knees, looking mildly unhappy. His next touch, and next kick, goes really badly though – he pulls up with a wince, and starts limping. Toby Flood replaces him.
60 min From fully 50 yards, Farrell misses, the ball having flopped over just before he took the kick.
58 min Now England have a penalty, Fofana penalised. It was an England kick in the build-up to the England try, Tom Wood with the swinging boot, so there was an offside there. England bring on Danny Care, and take off Ben Youngs.
England 17-13 France
57 min As with France’s first-half try, a penalty is conceded within moments, and Parra lands this one. This game is still anyone’s.
56 min Farrell misses the conversion, from a yard inside the sideline. France bring on Debaty.
TRY! England 17-10 France
55 min A lucky bounce for England, and a try from nothing. France have the ball, but it’s then kicked into an England leg, and it deflects to Tuilagi. If it was an England player who kicked it, the try shouldn’t have counted.
54 min France bring on Michalak for Trinh-Duc, to the befuddlement of the BBC commentary team.
52 min Replacements! Youngs, Vunipola and Haskell are on.
50 min Replacements being readied, as Ben Youngs runs a quick penalty, worked from the right side to the left, before Wood is penalised for not releasing the ball.
England 12-10 France
48 min That’s the perfect penalty, absolutely dissecting the posts, and England are in the lead.
47 min Hartley gets another chance, from a good 10 yards further back, and does much better with it. England’s rolling maul is eventually brought down by France, and a penalty is awarded.
46 min England’s line-out, 10 yards from the France tryline, is stolen by France. Bah!
44 min Farrell seems to be getting a bit emotional here. Half-time has passed without any massive change to the way the game’s going – France looking the better side.
43 min Parra gets his kick, a good chance from 40 yards, all kinds of wrong, and it goes very well wide. A let-off for England.
42 min The first scrum of the second half ends messily, and with a penalty to France.
41 min France get things re-started, and Goode and Huget exchange kicked clearances.
The players are back out. The second half is about to happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
And that’s yer lot, for now. An excellent, tough, tight half ending with honours very nearly even.
40+1 min Parra misses the target, the ball flopping a yard or two wide, and possibly slightly short as well.
40 min France in a penalty, with 10 seconds to go, pretty much on the halfway line.
40 min Another nice run from Fofana, who jinks past Hartley very nicely indeed.
39 min France win the ball from an England line-out, as the home side were plotting how best to retake the lead before the break.
36 min Goode’s kick is charged down, but the ball falls kindly for England.
England 9-10 France
34 min And by the time I finish typing about the try, England have a penalty. I didn’t see it, but I’m told it was “soft”.
Converted! England 6-10 France
31 min A pretty straightforward conversion. It was a lovely try, but England will be embarrassed when they watch it again. Fofana’s run should have ended immediately, it’s not like no one had a chance to stop him. Indeed, five people did, four of them pretty good chances. Bah!
TRY! England 6-8 France
30 min Solo try from Fofana, who just runs straight through four players down the left touchline – rubbish, limp, high attempted tackles – and keeps going!
England 6-3 France
28 min Farrell slams the kick between the posts from a pretty straightforward position, just to the left of the target.
27 min Tuilagi is tripped five yards from the line – Parra with the excellent tackle – and Farrell collects the ball and chips it too far ahead of Ashton and straight into touch. Play is called back for a penalty to England.
24 min France win the ball, and Huget brings the ball very nicely out of defence, though he benefited from Farrell being deliberately tripped as he went to close the ball down. And replays show that it was Farrell who was responsible for Parra’s off-the-ball collapse a few moments ago, with a deliberate but not especially violent shoulder-to-nose swivel.
23 min Tuilagi has his first run, progressing a couple of metres with someone hanging off his ankle.
21 min This is all about tension. The action is a bit scrappy, but France are looking confident, the scores are tied and anything could happen here.
20 min Bastareaud his been quite swiftly tackled whenever he’s got the ball so far, normally by people much smaller than him, but he just did his first bit of proper bulldozering, running on with three people hanging off him. In other news, Farrell has lost a contact lens.
18 min Parra goes down off the ball, clutching his face. I didn’t see who or what made contact. Neither did the referee.
16 min France looking impressive so far, particularly in the scrum, but also moving the ball fluently to the backs. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again,” writes Pete Harmer, “we should sing the Grandstand theme tune before all major sporting occasions. Unless there is a similar classic BBC theme tune for that specific sport – see snooker, skiing and cricket.” Not a bad idea, in many ways, though a show that still exists might be a better choice.
14 min A bit of mildly aggressive chest-shoving from Farrell gets the crowd excited.
14 min And that one ends with a free kick to England.
13 min For a moment Fofana seems to be sprinting clear for an easy try, but there was a knock-on a few moments earlier, and there’ll be another scrum instead.
11 min The South African referee really loves scrums. He’s making the teams do them again and again, the last ending with a penalty to France, who seem pretty strong.
9 min Parra boots the ball straight up in the air, and upon its return landward there’s all sorts of manic scrapping, including an England knock-on.
7 min “I’d imagine any Englishman cannot watch the build up to England versus anyone in any sport without being jealous of the other teams anthem,” writes Simon McMahon. “Can’t you change it? Us Scots just sing whatever warrior anthem we like until we get bored, then we get a new one.” If only it were so easy.
England 3-3 France
5 min Morgan Parra makes the scores level. Clearly not a lot of wind about, as both early penalties have flown straight and true to their destination.
4 min Trinh-Duc’s lovely chipped kick is collected by Fofana as the visitors enjoy their first spell of possession, and when Bastareaud fumbles the ball the referee calls action back for a penalty to France, conceded by Launchbury.
England 3-0 France
2 min Farrell makes no mistake, despite the considerable distance, and that’s the perfect start.
2 min England get an early penalty, Maestri the man to blame.
1 min Owen Farrell gets things started. Let’s do this.
4.59pm Although our lads certainly make the most of the one we’ve got.
4.58pm I cannot watch the build-up to any England v France match without feeling enormous jealousy about their national anthem.
4.56pm Here they are, accompanied of course by fireworks and flamethrowers and dramatic music.
4.55pm The French players emerge from the tunnel. No sign of England yet.
4.53pm Clive Woodward: “England are favourites, but France look a much better team just on paper.” I’m certain he means they’re a far better team than they were last time out, not than England.
4.50pm Now Philippe Saint-Andr has taken his turn in front of the BBC microphone: “We were very disappointed after the first two performances,” he says. “I just hope we will have a lot of spirit and we play rugby.”
Of his much-changed side, he says: “It’s more about the attitude. Against Wales we were organised in defence but we didn’t play rugby. [England] are a very confident team, a very young team. If we are just in defence for 80 minutes it will be a very long game.
He is asked if his team will be better for their relatively restful build-up to the game: “If we lost the first two games, we can’t blame fatigue. We didn’t perform well, we weren’t good enough. Last week was the first time the players didn’t playing the French league. Two days more [preparation], more recovery – I hope the players will be more fresh, more precise and we need this because we know it will be a very, very physical game.”
4.40pm Stuart Lancaster has been chatting to the Beeb. “I think, when you look at the context of their selection, there’s no doubt there’s going to be a reaction from the previous two games. We’ve got to be ready for that,” he says. “I think the start will be crucial. If we can get a good start and manage the game well, build a score, that’s what we want. And obviously we’ve got a bench who we think will make an impact in the second half.”
4.38pm Close-up of a thermometer, which is hovering a tiny fraction below zero. “Thermal everything!” exhorts Inverdale.
4.35pm John Inverdale gets the BBC broadcast under way, thick coat on, collar up, neck and scarf in tight embrace. It’s cold, then.
4.27pm Due to the technoshambles I’m sharing an email address with Ian McCourt and his football Clockwatch. Someone’s just emailed him with details of a dish of chicken anus he ate once, and another reader has confessed to munching on raw whale ovary. Slow football day?Good performance from Wales, but the match really disappeared from Italy’s grasp with the second-half yellow card shown to Castrogiovanni.
4.19pm It’s all over in Rome, where Wales have won 26-9.
Point of information: You may notice that this doesn’t look like the average Guardian minute-by-minute. That’s because of the technological carnage currently being experienced at Guardian HQ, where the corridors are littered with the bloodied corpses of failed hardware, and meeting rooms echo to the pained screams of frustrated technogeeks. We have no internet to speak of. This is a particular problem when you run a website. So I can’t use our normal bespoke bells-n-whistles liveblogging software, but I can throw stuff onto the interweb using this slightly outmoded interface (though I can’t see what it looks like when I do). That’s the way it is. Cards on the table.
Preamble: “We are in a good place,” says Chris Robshaw. And it’s true. England are in a good place. A very good place, even. Not as good as the place they’ll be in this evening if they win this, but a good place all the same. If all places are waterside holiday locations, I’d say they’re somewhere near Windermere. The Lake District is beautiful and dramatic and wonderful in a slightly rugged way, but Windermere is not Lake Como, and it’s certainly not the Maldives. There is room for improvement there. And what place are France in, meanwhile? Not a good one, clearly, but they’ve got obvious potential for significant rapid upgrading. Could they have checked out of Fawlty Towers since those meek defeats to Italy and Wales (Meek Defeat, incidentally, has always been my favourite Jackie Wilson song), and headed somewhere better instead, perhaps Vancouver, or San Sebasti n? Time alone will tell. Specifically, the time we are about to experience together.
There’s been a lot of talk about the match-up between Manu Tuilagi and Mathieu Bastareaud, the two teams’ massive monsters, and I’ll try to keep a running crunchometer going so you can see at a glance who is being most destructive. Tuilagi, incidentally, revealed yesterday where he aims his tackles: “Just below the forehead.”
England: A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Wood (Northampton). Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), T Waldrom (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins), T Flood (Leicester), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester).
France: Y Huget (Toulouse); V Clerc (Toulouse), M Bastareaud (Toulon), W Fofana (Clermont Auvergne), B Fall (Racing Metro); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont Auvergne); T Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), B Kayser (Clermont Auvergne), N Mas (Perpignan), C Samson (Castres), Y Maestri (Toulouse), Y Nyanga (Toulouse), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt), L Picamoles (Toulouse). Replacements: D Szarzewski (Racing Metro), V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), L Ducalon (Castres), J Suta (Toulon), A Claassen (Castres), M Machenaud (Racing Metro), F Michalak (Toulon), F Fritz (Toulouse).
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa).
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland) and Leighton Hodges (Wales).