England edged France 19-16 at Twickenham on Saturday to record their 15th successive Test victory. JON CARDINELLI reports.
England will be thrilled with the result. They were physically outplayed by a fiery French side. They were hammered back in the collisions and outsmarted at the breakdowns. Yet, they still managed to emerge with the spoils and begin their Six Nations title defence on a positive note.
What's more, this England side has now won 15 Tests in a row. No England side, not even the legends of the early 2000s, managed to win more than 14 in succession.
Eddie Jones and his charges will breath a sigh of relief, though. If not for the accurate goal-kicking of Owen Farrell and the hard running of Ben Te'o, they may have been left to lament a loss.
The collision between Uini Atonio and Nathan Hughes set the tone for the rest of the game. Atonio barrelled through the giant England No 8. For much of the game, it was the French who bossed the gainline battle and forced England's dangerous 9-10-12 combination of Ben Youngs, George Ford and Farrell to operate off the back foot.
Jonny May was shown a yellow card in the 13th minute for a dangerous tackle. England conceded six points in his absence. They were fortunate not to concede more.
Camille Lopez missed a relatively simple attempt at goal in the dying stages of the first half. England enjoyed one final scoring opportunity before half-time and Elliot Daly, lining the kick up from 50m back, made it count. Unbelievably, the score was 9-9 at half-time.
But France continued to come at the English. Louis Picamoles kept on running at the tiring England forwards, often dragging two or three defenders beyond the gainline.
And then, on the hour, the England defence finally relented. Picamoles was prominent in the build up, while fellow loose forward Kévin Gourdon delivered the offload that set Rabah Slimani up for the try. Other teams in the Six Nations – as well as the Springboks, who France will face in a three-Test series in June – would have watched that fearsome buildup and finish with some concern.
Unfortunately for the French, their fitness and discipline cost them in the latter stages. England's bench made a marked difference to the hosts' performance at the gainline. The men in white marched up field forcing penalty after penalty, and when Danny Care put Te'o into space, the sub translated the opportunity into five points.
Farrell's conversion saw England moving into a three-point lead. England played with more power and purpose in the dying stages, and ensured that they spent the bulk of the final 10 minutes deep in French territory.
England have now won 15 Tests in succession. New Zealand currently hold the tier-one Test record for the most consecutive wins (18).
England – Try: Ben Te'o. Conversion: Owen Farrell. Penalties: Farrell (3), Elliot Daly.
France – Try: Xavier Chiocci. Conversion: Camille Lopez. Penalties: Lopez (3).
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell.
France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Cyril Baille.
Subs: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Yoann Huget, 23 Jean-Marc Doussain.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images