England team manager Martin Johnson finally had something to smile about as his side came good to blitz the French with a thrilling five-try victory at Twickenham Stadium.
The home side were 29-0 ahead at the interval after turning in one of the most devastating first-half in Six Nations history and it didn’t take them long to extend their lead to 34-0 at the start of the second period.
After that the French finally found some pride, and a semblance of a game plan, and conjured up two tries to claim a small amount of face from a performance that barely resembled that which ended Wales’ run of eight successive tournament victories two weeks earlier.
England’s five tries took their season’s tally to 13 – three more than current RBS Six Nations leaders Ireland – and proved there is real firepower in their side when they keep 15 players on the pitch.
It took a mere 69 seconds for Mark Cueto to notch the first try and England never looked back from there. The Sale Sharks wing then made another for Riki Flutey and Delon Armitage and Joe Worsley crossed for further first-half scores.
The impressive Flutey, now very much in the frame for a Lions centre spot four years after he played against the Lions for Wellington, grabbed a second a minute after the re-start and England were in dreamland and chasing their record win over the French, 37-0 in 1911.
Flutey was one of a number of Lions candidates who finally emerged from an otherwise indifferent campaign for the England team to give head coach Ian McGeechan a considerable boost ahead of his selection for this summer’s tour to South Africa.
Lond Irish full back Armitage made it three tries in four games in his first championship, Leicester Tigers flanker Tom Croft carried of the Man of the Match title, Saracens lock Steve Borthwick led his side superbly and the London Wasps warhorse Worsley put in another magnificent performance.
No wonder Johnson, who had sen his side lose to Wales and Ireland in earlier rounds, was purring after the game.
“That was great and it just showed that when we executed what we wanted to do we could open them up and score tries,” said Johnson.
“I don’t think our intensity level was higher, but our precision levels were much better. The guys saw opportunities and turned them into clinical tries.
“There are still lots of improvements to make, but in the heat of the game there are always going to be mistakes. It is just a case of trying to minimise them.
“It is going to be a tough, tough test next weekend against the Scots. Scotland are very competitive and, if they’d taken their chances against Wales, it could have been very different.”