By NBF News

By James Standley
France completed their ninth Grand Slam but they were pushed all the way by a much-improved England side in Paris.

A Francois Trinh-Duc drop-goal gave France the lead but England went in front when Ben Foden finished off a fine move to claim his first Test try.

Toby Flood converted but three Morgan Parra penalties gave France a 12-7 half-time lead.

England dominated the second half but could only manage a Jonny Wilkinson penalty and France held on.

Based on the tournament overall France were clearly the best side in the 2010 Six Nations, but they were a pale shadow of the team which powered through the first four matches of the championship.

England had been heavily criticised for a series of sterile displays but they were the more enterprising side at the Stade de France and if they had taken their chances in the second half they could have derailed the French march to glory.

However, for all their undoubted improvement in Paris, England finished third in the table and the tale told by an aggregate points total of only 88 – a full 20 fewer than their previous lowest tally of 108 in 2008 – spoke volumes.

After limping through their first four matches, England boss Martin Johnson had sent out a team featuring seven changes from the dire draw with Scotland.

In contrast, France boss Marc Lievremont, who was renowned for his constant rotation in his first 18 months in charge, had made only one change, recalling the young giant Mathieu Bastareaud at centre.

But it was France's first-half dominance in the scrum which set the stage for half-backs Parra and Trinh-Duc to guide their side to victory in very wet conditions in the French capital.

Fly-half Trinh-Duc popped over an early drop-goal for the hosts but England hit back immediately with a marvellous try.

Backs and forwards combined through several phases before England moved the ball crisply down the line and quick hands from Riki Flutey and the debutant Chris Ashton set Foden free down the left for his maiden England try.

Flood, who was a lively presence in the 10 shirt, converted from the touchline and the majority of the 80,000 crowd rubbed their eyes in disbelief to see England 7-3 ahead on the scoreboard.

Riki Flutey feels the full force of Mathieu Bastareaud

After Flood came the deluge, as torrential rain began to hammer down, but France went back on the attack and cut the gap when Flutey was penalised for going off his feet at a ruck and Parra drilled the penalty between the posts.

England's power up front was significantly turned down when giant lock Simon Shaw was forced off injured on his return from the casualty list, with Paris-based Tom Palmer coming on.

France scented blood at the scrums and they put the England front row under huge pressure, earning two penalties which Parra drilled between the posts to give the hosts a 12-7 advantage at the break.

France looked as though they had established a potentially match-winning advantage in a vital area of the game but England responded to their struggles in the scrum by bringing on David Wilson and Steve Thompson for Dan Cole and Dylan Hartley respectively at half-time and the visitors improved immediately.

Against all expectation England were now looking the more dangerous side but they could not score, with Ashton wasting a golden chance of a try when he kicked ahead with Flutey in support and only Poitrenaud to beat after swift hands from Mike Tindall.

In a game of few chances it looked like being a crucial miss and although England continued to threaten, with one fine Cueto break grinding to a halt when Danny Care lost control of the ball in a tackle five metres out, they could not cross the hosts' line.

Wilkinson, on as a second-half replacement, did manage to cut the gap to two points with a long-range penalty from the right touchline with 13 minutes left.

But although France had been on the back foot for the first 30 minutes of the half, they finally lifted the siege to secure both victory and a rapturously received Grand Slam, their first since 2004 and third of the Six Nations era. France: Poitrenaud; Andreu, Bastareaud, Jauzion, Palisson; Trinh-Duc, Parra; Domingo, Servat, Mas, Nallet, Pierre, Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy.

Replacements: Malzieu for Andreu (73), Marty for Bastareaud (51), Poux for Domingo (55), Szarzewski for Servat (53), Chabal for Pierre (59), Lapandry for Harinordoquy (53).

Not Used: Yachvili.
England: Foden; Cueto, Tindall, Flutey, Ashton; Flood, Care; Payne, Hartley, Cole, Shaw, Deacon, Worsley, Moody, Easter.

Replacements: Tait for Tindall (53), Wilkinson for Flutey (61), Thompson for Hartley (41), Wilson for Cole (41), Palmer for Shaw (15), Haskell for Worsley (64).

Not Used: Youngs.
Att: 80,000
Ref: B Lawrence (New Zealand).