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England on track for Slam, worst French start for 31 years

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rfu.com and James Mortimer     25 Feb 2013     Getty Images

The recalled Leicester Tigers centre, who was irrepressible with ball in hand throughout, gleefully raced over in the corner for his fifth try in his last five starts after a lucky bounce at the breakdown presented the 22-year-old with a chance on 54 minutes.

With three wins from three, England remain on course for a first Grand Slam since 2003, while France continue their worst start to a Five or Six Nations championship since 1982.

France centre Wesley Fofana had given Philippe Saint Andre’s team a first-half lead with a fine individual try, displaying searing pace to take advantage of some poor tacking and score in the corner Tuilagi would later touch down in.

The visitors caused England problems at the set piece – flanker Yannick Nyanga notable for causing havoc at times on England’s throw at the line out – and enjoyed periods of territorial dominance. But Stuart Lancaster will be delighted with the way his side found a way to win, building the victory on second-half defensive intensity and the reliable boot of fly halves Owen Farrell and replacement Toby Flood.

Farrell open the scoring in the second minute, slotting his first penalty chance after France lock Yohan Maestri was off his feet at the one of the game’s first breakdowns.

But the visitors replied almost immediately, recalled scrum half Morgan Parra neatly converting a penalty chance after Fofana created the field position with a delightful chip and re-gather in midfield, the first sign of his obvious class.

The opening quarter was punctuated by a series of penalties and knock-ons, halting the momentum of both sides, before incisive play from centres on both sides illuminated the game around the half hour mark.

France centre Wesley Fofana races clear for the opening try against England at Twickenham

Tuilagi bounced off hulking opponent Mathieu Bastareaud with his first carry and then evaded two tacklers after collecting a fizzed Ben Youngs pass, only for a Parra tap tackle to bring him down close to the line. When the ball was recycled, Farrell over-hit a kick to the corner for Chris Ashton but referee Craig Joubert went back for a penalty, which his duly thumped through the uprights.

But Fofana then scored an stunning try, collecting the ball in his own half and evading six tackles – some of them too high or mistimed – with a combination of intense pace and delightful footwork.

Parra’s conversion briefly gave France a four-point lead, only for the dependable boot of Farrell to trim the lead to one with his third penalty from three before half time.

The Clermont scrum half had the first chance of the second half but he screwed his kick wide after huge scrum from his pack won a penalty. In contrast, Farrell lapped up his first chance of the second half, putting England back in the lead with a penalty on 47 minutes.
England full back Alex Goode challenges for a high ball with opposite number Yoann Huget

England made a series of changes – bringing on Tom Youngs, James Haskell and Mako Vunipola – and scored their only try right away. Full back Alex Goode put up a high ball and when Vunipola got in a toe at the resulting breakdown, the ball ricocheted to Tuilagi and he raced over in the corner to give England a seven-point lead.

Farrell, replaced by Flood on the hour mark, missed the conversion and France cut the lead to four, with replacement fly half Freddie Michalak poking a penalty over off his short run up on 56.

The game entered a frantic period, with attacks from both sides. First France threatened down both flanks before a big carry from the at times uncontainable Tuilagi set up the field position for Flood to dab a grubber kick through, only for Vincent Clerc to cover.

England's replacements upped the intensity and one of them, Flood, kicked two penalties in the final ten minutes to seal victory a fine victory.

With three wins from three, England remain on course for a first Grand Slam since 2003, while France continue their worst start to a Five or Six Nations championship since 1982.