PARIS // Marc Lievremont, the France coach, acknowledged a spirited performance by England in a 12-10 defeat that handed the French their first Grand Slam since 2004 in the Six Nations on Saturday night. England ended a disappointing campaign in combative mood, scoring the only try of a tense encounter through Ben Foden, the full-back, and pressing France until the very end.
"I'd like to pay tribute to England, who were magnificent and once again made life very difficult for us," Lievremont said. "It was painful and we have to remain modest after this but I'm very proud of how my players behaved in difficult circumstances and of the solidarity they showed." Lievremont was delighted that his side abandoned their trademark flair to grind out the win. "We're happy and relieved. I'll just say four words of English: No scrum, no win," he said.
"Of course we would had liked to control things a little bit more and put on a show but in the end it's five wins and a Grand Slam." Lievremont's team scored on their first attack, the ball being quickly released after a scrum for the fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc to slot over a drop-goal. England replied immediately. A series of lightning-quick passes across the line released Foden, whose pace took him clear to touch down in the left corner for a try converted by Toby Flood.
France came back into the game and three penalties from Morgan Parra put Les Bleus 12-7 up at half-time. Jonny Wilkinson, England's World Cup-winning fly-half, came off the replacements bench in the second half after heavy rain started pelting the pitch and soon kicked England to within three points of France to ensure a nervous last 10 minutes at Stade de France. Martin Johnson, the England team manager, said the fierce battle on a rainy night in the French capital could have gone either way.
"We did the things we wanted to do despite difficult conditions and ultimately it was very close," said Johnson. "We were far better in the second half and defensively, we were superb throughout. "The effort from our guys was fantastic but sometimes a game does not go exactly the way you think it will. "The weather conditions changed dramatically and in that heavy downpour we spilled the ball a few times. In the second half we were tactically much better."
Scotland's 23-20 win over Ireland in Dublin earlier in the day meant France were already assured of the Six Nations title before taking to the field. They gave England one last chance to launch an attack after losing possession with 30 seconds remaining, but they fumbled after gaining some ground and France were able to clear the ball into touch, prompting jubilant celebrations as Mathieu Bastareaud, the blockbusting centre, sprinted off the bench and threw himself into his teammates' arms.