England contemplates Grand Slam after edging out France
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England are on track for their first Six Nations title since 2003 after defeating defending champions France 17-9 at Twickenham on Saturday. The match saw Johnny Wilkinson become the all-time greatest test point-scorer.
AP - England stayed on course for the Grand Slam and a first Six Nations title since 2003 by beating defending champion France 17-9 in a battle of attrition at Twickenham on Saturday.
The northern hemisphere heavyweights went into halftime locked at 9-9 thanks to three penalties apiece by England flyhalf Toby Flood and France scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili.
But a 42nd-minute try by fullback Ben Foden and a penalty by replacement Jonny Wilkinson, which put him back on top of the all-time list of test point-scorers, pushed England clear and sealed a third straight victory.
England must still beat Scotland at home and Ireland away to complete the Grand Slam.
The defeat ended France's eight-match winning streak in the Six Nations and left Les Bleus level on four points with Wales, which beat Italy 24-16 earlier Saturday.
Try-scoring chances were at a premium in a tense match, meaning England winger Chris Ashton was unable to add to his six tries so far in this tournament.
Instead, it was Foden, Ashton's Northampton Saints clubmate, who grabbed the key score in the left corner while the experienced Wilkinson steered the team home in the final quarter.
Wilkinson's 52nd-minute penalty moved him onto 1,190 points and allowed him to overtake New Zealand flyhalf Dan Carter by two in the scorers list.
The pressure was ramped up for this probable title decider and it showed on both teams in an error-strewn first half that was filled with poor passing, handling errors and a lack of composure.
Flood's kicking, which had been flawless in the first two matches in wins over Wales and Italy, remained spot on though and by the 18th he had kicked three penalties to put England 9-3 up.
Yachvili replied with one of his own _ after the hosts botched an attempt to run back a restart rather than kick clear _ and the scrumhalf added two more in the space of four minutes to level the scores by the 22nd.
There were no tryscoring chances of note in the first 40 minutes, although France winger Yoann Huget appeared to be tripped by Shontayne Hape as he chased after his own kick toward the England tryline three minutes before halftime.
Yachvili missed a tough penalty attempt with the last kick of the half and England made him pay two minutes into the second period.
Ben Youngs and Flood spread play out to the left wing where Mark Cueto fumbled the ball somewhat fortunately into the path of Foden, who muscled over from five yards (meters).
Flood struck the conversion wide - his first missed kick in three matches - and was pinged two minutes later for a forward pass to Youngs, who would have sent in Ashton for another try had play not been pulled back.
That proved to be Flood's last meaningful act as he went off with an ankle injury in the 50th, to be replaced by Wilkinson.
Within two minutes, England's 2003 World Cup-winning hero landed a long-range penalty to not only put England at least two scores ahead but also overtake Carter's all-time haul.
Yachvili, whose kicking was the scourge of England in successive Six Nations matches from 2004-06, struck the post with a 54th-minute penalty as France sought a way back into the match.
Center Aurelien Rougerie then knocked on with a try at his mercy as he attempted to ground Francois Trinh-Duc's deft grubber kick.
England saw the game out professionally in the final 20 minutes to keep alive its hopes of a first Six Nations title since 2003, the year it won the World Cup.