Classic Match: France down England on way to the Grand Slam

After narrowly missing out on the Grand Slam two years running, England entered the 2002 Championship determined to get over the line at long last.

After narrowly missing out on the Grand Slam two years running, England entered the 2002 Championship determined to get over the line at long last.

Those hopes were ended in Paris and instead it was France who became the first team to complete the clean sweep since Italy joined the competition.   SETTING THE SCENE   England had won each of the last two editions of the Championship, but on each occasion missed out on the Grand Slam, losing their final game to Scotland in 2000 and then Ireland the following year.

Still, they entered 2002 as the team to beat, and had not lost to France in the Championship since 1998.

Les Bleus were coming off a successful autumn though, having beaten both Australia and South Africa, as well as Fiji.

Both teams had started the Championship strongly, with England convincingly beating Scotland in Edinburgh and then Ireland at home.

France opened with a win at home to Italy before seeing off Wales in a thrilling encounter in Cardiff.   THE TEAMS   Martin Johnson led an England side that was unchanged from the victory over Ireland two weeks previous.

There was a change on the bench where Henry Paul was named and he would come off the bench to make his Test debut.

By contrast, Bernard Laporte made four changes to his team from the side that beat Wales including the return of captain Fabien Galthié at scrum-half.

Elsewhere David Bory started on the wing, David Auradou came into the second row, and finally Olivier Magne was included at flanker, with Imanol Harinordoquy shifting to No.8.

Flanker Rémy Martin also made his debut off the bench for Les Bleus.   HOW THE ACTION UNFOLDED   France dominated the first half and raced into a 17-0 lead before England had the chance to catch breath.

Fly-half Gérald Merceron missed an early penalty attempt but he made up for it on ten minutes with the first try of the game.

It came from a Galthié half-break, and the French skipper found Harinordoquy on his shoulder. The No.8 drew final man Jason Robinson perfectly before feeding Merceron for the simple run-in.

His conversion made it 7-0, and he did the same seven minutes later when Harinordoquy went from provider to scorer.

Initially probing down the right, France then shifted the ball left with winger Bory cutting inside and finding his No.8 outside him for the try in the corner.

A further Merceron penalty made it 17-0, but England were given a glimmer of hope on the stroke of half-time when Jason Robinson scored a brilliant solo try, stepping and racing through from the 22.

Jonny Wilkinson, who was hounded all afternoon by Serge Betsen, converted, and added another French penalty early in the second half to make it a one-score game.

England tried to work their way back but instead it was Merceron who knocked over another penalty to make it 20-10.

That effectively sealed the win, despite a fine late try from Ben Cohen with the final play of the game for the visitors.   THE AFTERMATH   Having beaten England, France were in pole position to win the Championship, and they followed up that success with a 22-5 win away to Scotland.

All that stood between them and a Grand Slam was a home clash with Ireland – who had famously won in Paris two years earlier.

There was to be no repeat this time around as France romped to a 44-5 success in the sunshine at the Stade de France to clinch the Grand Slam.

England, meanwhile, would lick their wounds and come back the following season to win the Grand Slam, before following that up with a World Cup victory.   WHERE ARE THEY NOW?   France coach Bernard Laporte led Les Bleus to two Grand Slam titles, and is now still very much part of the French set-up as the president of the FFR.

Captain Fabien Galthié now coaches at Toulon, while Aurélien Rougerie, who started on the opposite wing to Bory, retired at the end of the 2018 season after 19 seasons with Clermont Auvergne.

For England, Martin Johnson would go on to coach the national team until 2011, while Jonny Wilkinson has turned to television punditry since retiring in 2014.   France 20 England 15 Venue: Stade de France Date: 2 March 2002 Referee: Andre Watson Attendance: 79,502