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Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 22:03 GMT
Wilkinson makes France pay
England 25-17 France

England gained revenge for last year's Paris nightmare as they launched their Six Nations campaign with a surprisingly comfortable victory over France at Twickenham.

Jonyn Wilkinson
Man-of-the-match Wilkinson kept the scoreboard ticking over
A sparkling try from the dynamic Jason Robinson and a 20-point haul from the impeccable boot of Jonny Wilkinson fully vindicated their billing as odds-on favourites.

Reigning champions France did outscore their hosts on the try count with flanker Olivier Magne, full-back Clement Poitrenaud and centre Damien Traille all breaching the red rose defence.

But a dominant performance from the England pack laid the foundations for the first step on another probable Grand Slam crusade.

Whether England can go that elusive extra step this year remains to be seen, but they maintained the momentum of autumn victories over the southern hemisphere's big three.

England 25
Try: Robinson
Conv: Wilkinson 1
Pens: Wilkinson 5
Drop: Wilkinson 1
France 17
Try: Magne; Poitrenaud, Traille
Conv: Merceron
Two French tries in the final quarter sparked a few late nerves, but the home side held out with few alarms.

England started in confident fashion, Robinson taking a line-out to himself in the first minute before dancing past three French tacklers on a mazy run.

Then Dan Luger brought the capacity crowd to its feet when he pierced the French defensive line, only to be penalised for holding on to the ball in the tackle.

It was the most disappointing second-half I've experienced in an England jersey

England centre Will Greenwood
France proceeded to dominate possession but it was England who opened the scoring after 13 minutes when Wilkinson punished some French pushing at the line-out with a long-range penalty.

His kick landed on top of the crossbar and dropped apologetically over, but if that was a touch of good fortune, England's luck swiftly turned.

Charlie Hodgson, taking the ball at first receiver, saw his clearing kick charged down by the alert Magne and the flanker beat Wilkinson to the loose ball to dive over.

Gerald Merceron converted to put France 7-3 up, but England were back in front by the 28th minute courtesy of two more superbly-struck penalties from Wilkinson.

Merceron badly miscued a shot at goal that should have regained the lead for the visitors, and England lost centurion prop Jason Leonard to injury in the 33rd minute.

Dan Luger
England claimed the points despite failing to shine
But sparked by the irrepressible Robinson, England laid siege to the French line before the interval.

Hodgson almost redeemed his earlier error with a neat break only to spurn a try-scoring chance when he failed to spot Will Greenwood on his shoulder.

But the pressure finally told when the French defence fell offside in midfield and Wilkinson dispatched his fourth penalty for a 12-7 interval lead.

Lawrence Dallaglio came off the bench just three minutes into the second half to replace Lewis Moody, and hooker Mark Regan appeared as a temporary prop when Graham Rowntree suffered a head cut.

If we want to beat this kind of team at home we have to show better self-control

France coach Bernard Laporte
But the changes failed to disrupt England's rhythm and after concerted pressure on the French line, Greenwood's well-timed pass sent Robinson in under the posts after 48 minutes.

Wilkinson's fifth penalty of the afternoon extended the lead to 22-7 just before the hour, and the stand-off nonchantly dropped a goal minutes later to seemingly leave England cruising.

But France finally found their attacking spark 14 minutes from time, profiting from quick ruck ball to send Poitrenaud over in the right corner.

But Merceron missed the conversion and a subsequent penalty attempt, and despite Traille crossing in the right corner, England held out in a full 12 minutes of injury time.

England: J Robinson; D Luger, W Greenwood, C Hodgson, B Cohen; J Wilkinson, A Gomarsall; J Leonard, S Thompson, J White, M Johnson (capt), B Kay, L Moody, N Back, R Hill.

Replacements: M Regan, G Rowntree, D Grewcock, L Dallaglio, N Walshe, P Christophers, J Simpson-Daniel.

France: C Poitrenaud; A Rougerie, X Garbajosa, D Traille, V Clerc; G Merceron, F Galthie (capt); J-J Crenca, R Ibanez, C Califano, F Pelous, O Roumat, S Betsen, O Magne, I Harinordoquy.

Replacements: J-B Rue, S Marconnet, D Auradou, S Chabal, D Yachvilli, F Gelez, T Castaignede.

Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand)

BBC Five Live's Ian Robertson
"England secured a win of the highest significance"
Man-of-the-match England's Jonny Wilkinson
"The game lost its way a bit"

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15 Feb 03 | International
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