Six Nations - England hold firm to down France
Martin Johnson's side scored the game's only try through Ben Foden soon after half-time and will be as much relieved as delighted to have come through a hugely physical contest and successfully built on earlier wins over Wales and Italy.
Unlike their last outing at Twickenham when they crushed Italy 59-13, England were forced to scrap for every piece of possession and for long periods of the first half looked second best to a France side brimming with power.
But having gone into the interval level at 9-9, England were far more composed in the second half and claimed what proved to be the crucial score when Foden hung on to a fortunate pass from Mark Cueto to force his way over in the corner two minutes after the restart.
The try gave England a little breathing space and they stretched their lead in the 53rd minute when Jonny Wilkinson - on for the injured Toby Flood - landed a superb penalty with his first touch of the game.
The three points moved Wilkinson ahead of Dan Carter as international rugby's leading points scorer, but more importantly it gave England a two-score buffer which they maintained through to the final whistle.
France's best chance of cutting the deficit came on the hour when Aurelian Rougerie failed to touch down a Francois Trinh-Duc grubber kick after winning the race for the ball. But England also had two tries disallowed.
The first came two minutes after Foden's try when Flood and Ben Youngs combined superbly to put try-scoring machine Chris Ashton clear, and the second six minutes from time when skipper Mike Tindall went over.
Replays showed that Tindall's try should have been allowed, while referee George Clancy made the right call for a forward pass by Youngs for Ashton's disallowed score.
England started the game brightly and deserved the 9-3 lead they had built up by the 18th minute thanks to three Flood penalties to one from Dimitri Yachvili.
But for the remainder of the half France looked the stronger and England were stretched on more than one occasion as they defended their line desperately.
The home side had the better of the early scrums until Andrew Sheridan was forced off in the 23rd minute with a leg injury, and while his replacement Alex Corbisiero again proved an able deputy, France took advantage of the change to gain the upper hand.
France's counter-rucking was also causing England huge problems at the breakdown and the visitors thoroughly deserved to draw level with two more Yachvili penalties, while the scrum-half also hit the post with another effort after the break.
England were disjointed in the second quarter due to the ferocity of the French tackling and their commitment at the breakdown, and it is to their credit that they turned things around at the interval.
Johnson and his coaches clearly told their team to throw more bodies into the contact areas, where flankers Tom Wood and James Haskell stood up well to the power of their opposite numbers Thierry Dusautoir and Imanol Harinorodquy.
Both number eights had mixed games, Sebastien Chabal enjoying a number of effective drives early in the first half, while Nick Easter was prominent later as the match broke up.
England's line-out was also much improved after half-time, and man-of-the-match Tom Palmer - who took a knock to his head early on - did well to steady the ship, while they also gained parity in the scrums despite France's formidable tight-head Nicolas Mas.
After Sheridan was forced off, England - for the second game running - had a front row with an average age of 23 and Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole and Corbisiero will take confidence from holding their own against such renowned scrummagers.
Having soaked up long periods of French pressure in the third quarter, England finished the game strongly and should have extended their lead when an inside pass from Wilkinson in the 71st minute put Ashton through.
The Saints winger opted to pass to his left and the French cover got back to tackle Mark Cueto, while an inside pass to the unmarked Danny Care would have left the replacement scrum-half with a clear run to the line.
England have now won five of their last seven matches and will welcome Scotland to Twickenham in two weeks' time full of confidence after passing what is likely to be their biggest test of the championship.
The victory also snapped France's eight-match winning streak in the Six Nations and they will look to bounce back when the travel to Rome for their next outing.