France weathered an England storm to run out 12-10 winner at the Stade de France on Sunday (AEDT), completing its first Six Nations Grand Slam in six years.
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).
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 its rush defence and was happy to sit back, soak up the pressure and gradually take control of the middle portion of the match.
England, which 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 number eight 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 its 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 rugby 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.