By Julien Pretot
PARIS – France claimed their first Grand Slam and championship title in the Six Nations since 2010 as they beat England 25-13 on Saturday after passing a test of nerves in a contest they largely dominated at a packed Stade de France.
Fabien Galthie’s side showed their brilliance in an exhilarating opening half, although some poor passing and handling kept England in the game until the hour.
Les Bleus prevailed through tries by Gael Fickou, Francois Cros and Antoine Dupont with the rest of the points coming from Melvyn Jaminet’s boot to finish the championship on 25 points, four ahead of Ireland a year before France host the World Cup.
England answered with a try by Freddie Steward and kicks from Marcus Smith, but were too limited to be a credible threat as they ended up third on 10 points and three defeats.
England looked to unsettle the French with nagging kicks behind the defence but fullback Jaminet stayed alert.
France’s set moves did not go through at first as knock ons by Anthony Jelonch, Gael Fickou and Romain Ntamack delayed the inevitable.
After 15 minutes, however, Cameron Woki drew several defenders as Les Bleus piled on the pressure near the line, leaving Fickou unmarked on the right wing.
Ntamack found him with a long pass and Fickou touched down to put Les Bleus 8-0 up. England reduced the arrears right away through Smith’s penalty.
Jaminet restored France’s eight-point lead with a routine penalty before one of Smith’s many high kicks was captured within the French 22.
But the hosts, impeccable at the ruck, stole the ball back to kill what could have been a rare try chance for England.
France wasted another golden opportunity with another knock on, by Gabin Villiere this time, then allowed their opponents to narrow the gap with Smith’s second penalty.
Just when it seemed the momentum could swing England’s way, France came up with a long-range attack that saw the ball whiz between Fickou, Villiere and Ntamack, who was stopped close to the line only for Cros’s arm to emerge from the ruck and touch down.
Jaminet converted and Galthie’s side led 18-6 at halftime.
England came back from the dressing room with more ambition and were quickly rewarded when Steward dotted down from the right flank after the French defence had been fixed in the middle.
But the home side remained undaunted and struck again when Dupont powered through the middle of the breakdown and escaped Jamie George’s tackle to score the third try.
Since 2019, Dupont has been involved in 18 tries in 15 home games, scoring eight and setting up 10.
England refused to give up, though, and came close with 10 minutes left but Alex Dombrandt was held up as France’s steely defence came to the rescue and made sure Les Bleus would celebrate their 10th Grand Slam – the first of the Galthie era.