England self-destruct against France

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England blew an 11-point half-time lead to go down 18-17 to France in the RBS Six Nations international at Twickenham on Sunday, writes Huw Richards.

As in last week's defeat by Wales at Cardiff, not only the result but its manner should worry the England management. The team self-destructed against a French side lacking in attacking ideas and which scarcely threatened their line throughout a pallid contest. The most excited viewers will have been fans of Ireland and Wales realising the alleged giants have rarely been less intimidating. England have lost eight of their 12 games since winning the World Cup. With the tournament table splitting in two they are adrift in the lower half, their matches against similarly pointless Italy and Scotland potential wooden spoon deciders while France, Wales and Ireland all have two wins.

England had their chances to win even after the French had taken the lead with 12 minutes to go. But they first allowed the French to disrupt a five-yard scrum, then outside-half Charlie Hodgson so miscued a drop-goal attempt that it would have missed a second set of posts. The match saw a reversal not only in the balance of the contest but of traditional roles. England played all the decent attacking rugby, not that there was much, and scored two well-fashioned first-half tries through centre Olly Barkley and wing Josh Lewsey.

France, historically likelier than any nation to lose matches in which they score more tries, did it with penalties. Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili landed six from eight attempts, including four in 18 second-half minutes as England lost shape, control and discipline. England missed six, and while Barkley's three were all long-range near-misses, Hodgson's trio of failures will only increase the hankering for the still-absent Jonny Wilkinson.

If winning without playing well is the mark of champions, France could be on the way to immortality. They will, however, have to play considerably better in a fortnight in Paris to contain Wales, whose attacking vitality produced six tries and an unexpectedly clear-cut 38-8 win over Italy in Rome. England go to Dublin to face an Ireland team which overcame the absence of their main attacking weapons, centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy and a vibrant Scottish start to win 40-13 in Edinburgh. They are likely to handle England as sympathetically as England did the Welsh and Irish when they were struggling.

* A step nearer the finish but the title race is still just about alive, reports Jonathan Wilson from Eastlands. After Chelsea's 1-0 win at Everton on Saturday, Manchester United ensured they remained within nine points of the leaders with a 2-0 Sunday victory at Manchester City.

Nine points, of course, remains a sizeable margin, and Chelsea's repeated refusal to succumb at the northern grounds where Sir Alex Ferguson saw trouble for the London club leaves them firmly in control. Nonetheless, United's hopes still glimmer and for that they can largely thank Richard Dunne. Superb as City held Chelsea last week, the Irish centre-back seemed to have the measure of Wayne Rooney for much of Sunday's game. With 22 minutes remaining, though, Roy Keane slid in Gary Neville on the right and, as Rooney got a toe to his low cross, the ball deflected off Dunne's shin and past David James.

That was unfortunate enough, but at least Rooney is likely to be credited with that goal. There can be no such disguise for what followed seven minutes later. Rooney this time found space on the right and as Dunne tried to block his cross, the ball looped off his wagging leg, span cruelly over James and just inside the far post.

Dunne, though, should not carry the burden of responsibility alone. He, at least, could blame misfortune and could be considered to have had a decent game. Others have no such excuse and, despite the creativity of their midfield, City's lack of a sharp striker was painfully exposed.

For all United's domination of possession, City had the chances to have won the game. Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler both contrived to miss from inside the six-yard box. If McManaman, arriving on to a Shaun Wright-Phillips cross after 37 minutes, had the more important failure in the context of the game, Fowler's seemed to sum up City's haplessness. Nobody ever won a game only taking chances at the wrong end.

Ryan Giggs hit the post late on, but 2-0 was more than enough for United; with Chelsea still to come to Old Trafford, there remains for them the slimmest of hopes.

* Ten-man Sheffield United set up an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Arsenal with a 3-1 penalty shootout victory over fellow Championship side West Ham United in a fourth-round replay on Sunday. With the scores level at 1-1 after extra time, striker Andy Liddell converted the decisive spotkick after goalkeeper Paddy Kenny saved West Ham's first two penalties. Liddell had opened the scoring in the eighth minute, only for Sheringham to net West Ham's equaliser 17 minutes into the second half, ironically from the spot after skipper Chris Morgan had been sent off.

* Ashwell Prince scored his maiden half-century to steer South Africa to a three-wicket win over England and wrap up a 4-1 series victory in the seventh and final one-day international at Centurion on Sunday. Despite a superb century under pressure by England's Kevin Pietersen, who lifted England to 240 all out in 49.5 overs, South Africa won with an over to spare after Prince struck a career-best 62 not out in 76 balls.

The hosts finished on 241 for nine, with contributions from captain Graeme Smith (47) and Mark Boucher, (44). Pietersen smashed 116 off 110 balls - his third century of the series - to lift his series aggregate to 454 runs at an average of 151 after coming to the crease with his side 32 for three. Ashley Giles (41) and Kabir Ali (25) combined with Pietersen in stands of 104 for the seventh wicket and 53 for the eighth.

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