England lifted the pressure on team manager Martin Johnson by running in five tries during a scintillating 34-10 victory over France at Twickenham on Sunday.
Riki Flutey set up Mark Cueto for the opening try with less than a minute on the clock, before the latter returned the favour just after the midway point of the first half.
England then put the game beyond Les Bleus with two quickfire tries just before the break, through Delon Armitage and Joe Worsley, which helped them into a stunning 29-0 half-time advantage.
Flutey then crossed for his second after the game just after the restart, finishing off a superb break by Armitage, who was magnificent throughout.
France finally got off the mark when Dimitri Szarzewski drove his way over the line and they managed another consolation score through Julien Malzieu soon after.
However, after seeing their RBS 6 Nations Championship hopes ended in such embarrassing fashion, there was little for France to take from the game.
For England, there were nothing but positives after a performance which yielded five tries and, perhaps more crucially, not a single yellow card.
They have, of course, have been improving under Johnson and the argument had been made that had it not been for their ill-discipline that they could have beaten both Wales and Ireland.
Even still, nobody could have foreseen what unfolded in the opening 40 minutes at Twickenham, certainly not in light of France’s quite brilliant victory over Wales in round three.
However, France just never got going, particularly defensively, and were utterly incapable of coping with England’s greater desire, intensity, organisation and – most interestingly of all – attacking flair.
The French were particularly shambolic in defence, though, and their rearguard was breached after just 66 seconds. Flutey, seeing that he had just two French forwards in front of him, Sebastien Chabal and Thierry Dusautoir, burst through a gap before putting Cueto clear to score in the right corner with a superbly-timed and superbly-executed pass.
Flood converted and then added a penalty soon after to strengthen England’s grip on the game.
They then began to strangle all life out of France.
After a clean take at a line-out on the right-hand side from the forwards, Cueto, taking a beautiful line inside Flood, scythed through the French back-line before putting Flutey away for the simplest of finishes.
Moments later, Tom Croft, who picked up the man of the match award for a barnstorming display, thought he was away down the right wing but the move was called back because of a forward pass from Armitage to Lee Mears in the build-up.
There was no denying England’s superiority, though, and they effectively – and quite remarkably – put the game beyond on France with two tries in the space of three minutes at the end of the first half.
Both tries came from French turnovers in midfield. For Armitage’s try, Chabal had been stripped of possession in midfield before Julien Malzieu had been forced into turning the ball over just inches out from his line after England had kicked into the open spaces in behind the French defence. Then, after a couple of failed attempts to drive their way over, England eventually moved it across the line until Armitage – just one of three players who could have scored – dived over.
Just seconds after the restart, lightning struck twice. After the umpteenth French turnover of the afternoon, Harry Ellis wisely kicked into space. After England claimed the loose ball, Flood looked certain to score but he slipped twice with the line in sight, injuring himself in the process. It did not matter, though, because England again had men over wide on the left and it was Worsley who eventually crossed.
With Flood having to go off with a suspected dislocated shoulder, Armitage was entrusted with goal-kicking responsibilities but he dragged his conversion attempt to the left of the posts. Not that the majority of the crowd seemed to care too much; they were all still struggling to contain their joy at the hugely unexpected demolition job they were witnessing.
The second half was always likely to disappoint given what had unfolded in the opening 40 minutes but it initially threatened to continue in much the same manner.
Indeed, just as they had done in the first half, England stunned France with an early try. Predictably, it had its origins in a French error in the middle of the park but the way in which England capitalised on the mistake had to be admired, with the awesome Armitage streaking down the left flank before passing inside to Flutey, the Brive-bound centre ultimately proving to have sufficient pace, power and momentum to carry himself over the whitewash.
Unsurprisingly, England struggled to maintain their staggering pace and intensity and France gradually gained a foothold in the game.
Indeed, after their first decent spell of forward pressure, Szarzewski burrowed his way over to get them off the mark.
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