Jubilant France savour the Slam

IF Martin Johnson needed any reassurance the anguish of developing a new England team can ultimately be worth it, he need only listen to Marc Lievremont.

The France coach kept his post-match duties to a minimum on Saturday because, after two painful years of rebuilding Les Bleus, he had a Grand Slam to celebrate.

Lievremont started from scratch when he took charge after the 2007 Rugby World Cup, using over 70 players in two years and suffering some heavy defeats along the way.

Only 12 months ago, England scored five tries in 42 minutes against France as they romped to a 34-10 victory at Twickenham.

But Lievremont’s no pain, no gain attitude bore fruit in the Parisian rain as France won 12-10 and complete their first RBS 6 Nations clean sweep since 2004.

“This is a very nice baby – even if the birth was quite difficult,” said Lievremont. “For the first time we have reached the end of a series or a tournament and I can be satisfied.”

Johnson has not been quite so ruthless in his attempts to build a new England. His win-at-all-costs mentality would never contemplate such open experimentation.

But 20 players have made their England debuts in 19 Tests and the growing pains have been hard to bear at times, both inside and outside the camp.

England have laboured to victories over Italy and Argentina this season, drawn 15-15 with Scotland and lost narrowly to Ireland and France.

In all the key areas – tries, points, turnovers – they were worse in this year’s Six Nations than last. Johnson conceded many of the performances had not been good enough.

But England finally showed a glimpse of their true selves in Paris, pushing France to the brink with their best attacking performance of the championship.

Johnson still cut a frustrated figure because of the result but England had finally begun to live up to their promises of progress, which sounded so hollow until now.

“It is not just the public who have been disappointed. There has been some private disappointment. We are not living in a world where we think we are great,” Johnson reflected.

“It is anguish. We live and breathe it. We are frustrated today because we lost but I said to the guys as France picked up the trophy ‘you have played the Grand Slam champions and you took them all the way’.

“I have always said that if we were playing as well as we can, then fine. But we know we can do those things better.”

France scorers: Pens: Parra 3. Drop Goals: Trinh-Duc.

FRANCE: Poitrenaud, Andreu, Bastareaud, Jauzion, Palisson, Trinh-Duc, Parra, Domingo, Servat, Mas, Nallet, Pierre, Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy.

Replacements: Malzieu for Andreu (73), Marty for Bastareaud (51), Poux for Domingo (55), Szarzewski for Servat (53), Chabal for Pierre (59), Lapandry for Harinordoquy (53).

England scorers: Tries: Foden. Cons: Flood. Pens: Wilkinson.

ENGLAND: Foden, Cueto, Tindall, Flutey, Ashton, Flood, Care, Payne, Hartley, Cole, Shaw, Deacon, Worsley, Moody, Easter.

Replacements: Tait for Tindall (53), Wilkinson for Flutey (61), Thompson for Hartley (41), Wilson for Cole (41), Palmer for Shaw (15), Haskell for Worsley (64).

Referee: B Lawrence (New Zealand).

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