France give England early scare

France gave England an early scare in the first-half today at Twickenham before the home side regained the lead courtesy of Jonny Wilkinson.

England 9, France 7 (half-time)

France gave England an early scare in the first-half today at Twickenham before the home side regained the lead courtesy of Jonny Wilkinson.

An opportunistic try by Olivier Magne, converted by Gerald Merceron, saw the French lead the game for much of the half.

Wilkinson swung the game into action, and England immediately showed their intentions when full-back Jason Robinson set off on a weaving run from deep.

France absorbed the threat, but England quickly threatened again through a searing Luger midfield break, which revealed French defensive deficiencies.

It was a frantic opening, and France were determined to make their mark, putting pressure on England wing Ben Cohen inside his own 22. He fumbled possession, but Robinson cleared the danger.

Both sides continued probing for a decisive gap, and it took a clever Wilkinson touch-finder to put England within sight of the French 22.

England won the resulting line-out, but England skipper Martin Johnson was penalised and France cleared their lines, allowing forwards Fabien Pelous and Raphael Ibanez to catch the home side napping.

England snuffed out the threat, and they returned to French territory when referee Paul Honiss penalised French flanker Olivier Magne for stamping on Richard Hill.

France, despite shading the opening stages, fell behind on 14 minutes when Wilkinson landed a 48-metre penalty that bounced over off the crossbar.

It left the Newcastle fly-half just 13 points short of 600 for England in Tests, but France responded in superb fashion.

Hodgson, who started at inside centre, took on a fly-half defensive role, yet it had a catastrophic effect as his attempted defensive clearance from 20 metres out rebounded off Magne.

The French openside gathered an awkward bouncing ball under pressure from Wilkinson, and he had enough strength to dive over for his 10th Test try.

Fly-half Gerald Merceron added the conversion, giving France a 7-3 lead before Wilkinson cut England’s arrears to one point on 19 minutes with his second penalty.

Alarm bells were ringing throughout the England camp though, as France already looked a tougher proposition than the home side’s autumn Tri-Nations opponents.

Wilkinson added a third penalty to restore England's lead before the break.

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