IN A brutal match of thundering collisions, centre Manu Tuilagi scored England’s only try in the second half after playing on after having had his left ear ripped apart in a tackle, an injury which required 19 stitches, two of them in his inner ear.
Owen Farrell kicked four penalties and replacement Toby Flood slotted two as France slumped to their worst start in the tournament since 1958.
Head coach Stuart Lancaster described England captain Chris Robshaw as his “rock” after the 23-13 win at Twickenham kept alive home hopes of a first Grand Slam for ten years.
“He was outstanding,” said Lancaster. “He and Tom Wood in the back row in the last ten, 15 minutes were everywhere. They were like rocks in the side.
“It is what we build our game around. Chris was outstanding in his leadership and his ability to make correct decisions under pressure, as a player as well as a captain. It is testament to him.”
Robshaw, pictured, was named man of the match after a game in which the French went close to redeeming themselves for defeats against Italy and Wales.
Centre Wesley Fofana scored a fine first-half try, while Morgan Parra kicked one penalty and one conversion and his replacement Frederic Michalak also slotted over a penalty.
And, while Robshaw admitted England were caught cold at times in the first half, he was delighted with the way they finished.
Robshaw said: “It was a real Test match. Credit to our defence in the second half because ultimately it created Manu Tuilagi’s try and allowed us to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
“The character of the squad means we were never too far out of the game. We kept the belief that we can come back, even in the first half when we didn’t play that well. It might have been different if we were on the road, but the crowd got us going. It is a great win. The Grand Slam doesn’t cross people’s minds, our feet are firmly on the ground. We are in a good place.
“Manu was great today. You could really see his power and physicality. He wanted to prove a point and he did that. He was exceptional.”
Lancaster was particularly impressed with the increasing maturity of his young side.
He said: “Our players know they have been through a very tough 80 minutes. France brought their A game today and put us under a lot of pressure. We kept our composure and our discipline.”