England secured a remarkable 24-22 victory over France in Paris that may well have profound implications on the destiny of the RBS 6 Nations title and future direction of the national team.
Tries from Manu Tuilagi and Ben Foden put England 14-3 ahead and when Tom Croft scored late on they led 24-15 with just five minutes remaining.
Wesley Fofana's converted try in the corner brought France storming back into the game but Francois Trinh-Duc's late drop-goal attempt fell short.
England were the better side for the opening half-hour and scored two scintillating tries to take control of the match. Chris Ashton produced a shuddering tackle on hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and Owen Farrell scooped up the loose ball as Lee Dickson sent Tuilagi thundering away to beat Aurelien Rougerie and score in the corner.
After Farrell converted, Lionel Beauxis landed a long-range penalty to get France on the board but England hit them again with a second try. Number eight Ben Morgan beat two defenders on a rampaging run before fending off Imanol Harinordoquy and slipping a deft offload to Foden, who dragged Vincent Clerc with him over the line. Farrell's conversion was successful.
Croft and Ashton took exception to a tackle from Rougerie on Foden, prompting a shoving match with Rougerie which saw France awarded a penalty, which Julien Dupuy kicked. It was careless from England, who then conceded another before the interval as their lead was cut to 14-9.
Farrell extended England's advantage after Fofana was penalised for a deliberate knock-on, defying the jeers to land a nerveless kick from 40 metres out.
England conceded another penalty for pulling down a maul, which Beauxis missed, before Sharples was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on. And France continued to chip away at their lead with two more penalties from Beauxis.
Suddenly the lead was down to two points. England had to respond and they did through Croft, who cut between Rougerie and Harinordoquy before rounding Clement Poitrenaud to score. But there was still time for late drama.
From a strong five-metre scrum, Fofana attacked the blindside and beat Sharples to score in the same corner as Tuilagi. And with five minutes left the match was again in the balance but England clung on as Trinh-Duc's drop goal attempt lacked the legs to reach its target.