France tore England apart in one of the great Guinness Six Nations performances to keep their 2023 Championship hopes alive ahead of Super Saturday.
Two tries each from Thibaut Flament, Charles Ollivon and Damian Penaud, plus one from Thomas Ramos, helped Les Bleus to their first Championship win at Twickenham in 18 years and handed England a record home defeat on a chastening day for Steve Borthwick and his team.
France were out of sight by half-time, with Ramos, Flament and Ollivon all crossing to put them 27-3 ahead, before Flament grabbed his second after the break to confirm the all-important bonus point. Ollivon’s second and a late double from Penaud added the cherry on top of the cake in a 53-10 win.
AS IT HAPPENED: France run riot at Twickenham
The result means that Grand Slam-chasing Ireland cannot be crowned champions in Scotland tomorrow, and raised the tantalising prospect of a three-way Super Saturday shoot-out if Scotland can win.
However it shakes out, the permutations can wait for another day because France will rightly celebrate a momentous victory. Twickenham was billed as the last hurdle Les Bleus had left under head coach Fabien Galthie, who has steered his side to long-overdue wins in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, victories against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, and last year’s Grand Slam.
But instead of being made to sweat, they took the bull by the horns and outclassed an England team still finding their feet under Borthwick.
England did threaten to make a game of it when the introduction of Alex Mitchell sparked a Freddie Steward try, but France pulled clear again to sew up the points and have historians scrambling for the record books.
England need to re-group ahead of their Super Saturday showdown with Ireland, while France host Wales knowing they can become champions again if results go their way.
With both teams still in title contention at kick-off, a tight and nervy game was expected. France, however, had other ideas.
Les Bleus have a reputation for making fast starts, having scored a try within the first five minutes of two of their three Championship matches, and they struck early once again at Twickenham.
In a frantic first series, the visitors conjured a superb try from inside their own half through Ramos. It started with flanker Ollivon and his offload to the giant Flament, who evaded Jack Willis and bolted upfield.
He then found the supporting Ethan Dumortier down the left-hand side and the speedy winger broke clear of England’s defence, waited for the overlapping Ramos and slipped the full-back in for the first try of the game.
England were stunned and before they knew it they were 10-0 down, with Ramos adding three more points with a penalty from the tee – one of four the hosts conceded within the first 15 minutes.
It was at that point the heavens opened and the rain began to pour, a metaphor for England’s afternoon. The wintry weather was supposed to be an equaliser, but France were excellent throughout – their kicking accurate, their set-piece stable and their ruck speed far quicker than England’s.
They added the second try their performance deserved in the 26th minute, following some Antoine Dupont brilliance. While he is rightly praised for his flair and imagination, the France captain does the fundamentals so well and a monster of a box-kick won Les Bleus a 50:22 deep inside England territory and provided the platform for the score.
France’s lineout routine worked perfectly and England could do little to stop a charging Flament from crashing over the line from a short pass.
The hosts scored their first points six minutes before the break, Smith coolly dissecting the posts with a penalty, but Ramos responded with his second penalty of the game within 90 seconds to re-establish a 17-point Les Bleus lead.
They then put the game to bed just before half-time. From a scrum inside England’s 22, France went down the blindside and Ollivon – who by coincidence scored a try at the Aviva Stadium in 2021 when France ended a long away drought at Ireland – muscled his way over the line for France’s third of the game.
LES BLEUS SMASH RECORDS
England flew out of the traps in the second half like a team that had just had some very honest truth delivered to them at half-time.
A Marcus Smith cross-field kick almost found a diving Max Malins in the right-corner, with TMO showing a knock-on at grounding, but they did not have to wait long for their first try.
With Alex Mitchell on at scrum-half, and Owen Farrell introduced at inside centre to play alongside Smith, the change of tactic was clear. It bore fruit within a minute as Mitchell slipped in Steward to score and help cut the gap to 17 points.
However, any hope of a comeback was quickly snuffed out when Steward failed to deal with a bouncing ball inside his own 22, allowing Romain Ntamack to outjump him and palm the ball back to Flament, who rumbled through for his second.
That broke England’s spirit and France then ran riot. They soon had a fifth try, when a brilliant kick-chase from Ramos caused panic in the England defence.
Smith was carried back over his own tryline by Ramos and Ollivon, and then lost the ball in contact, allowing Ollivon to reach over and touch it down.
Penaud then added a late double, both in the right corner, to compound England’s misery. His first came from a Gael Fickou cross-kick, and he outsprinted Alex Dombrandt, while his second came from a left-to-right passing move from first phase that carved England apart. It was a fitting end to a magnificent performance.