Ireland won the Six Nations on points difference for the second consecutive season after England were only able to beat France 55-35 in a thrilling match at Twickenham. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen recently said that the Six Nations was boring, but even he would have been entertained by the final day of the tournament.
Needing to win by 26 points to snatch the title away from Ireland, England found themselves leading by 20 with a minute to go. They were awarded a penalty, kicked for the corner and set up a driving maul. But France were awarded a penalty at the breakdown, and after his team bizarrely took a quick tap, Rory Kockott booted the ball into the stands.
What a game this was.
England made the perfect start to their final fixture when France lost possession in midfield, and Jonathan Joseph broke away. He passed to Mike Brown, who found George Ford on his inside, with the flyhalf putting Ben Youngs away for a try. Ford slotted the difficult conversion, but then missed his first penalty attempt, from 45m out.
Jules Plisson got France on the board with a penalty, before a knock-on from Courtney Lawes allowed Sébastian Tillous-Borde to sprint away for an unconverted try.
Former Sharks U21 fullback Scott Spedding sparked France's next try, with a chip and regather. The ball went wide to Noa Nakaitaci, who stupidly tried to get closer to the posts. Fortunately for the Fijian-born winger, replays showed he just grounded the ball before stepping over the deadline ball. There was, however, some doubt about whether he had control when grounding the ball.
Plisson kicked the conversion but would miss with two penalty attempts.
Ford, meanwhile, reduced the deficit to five with his first penalty, with England then taking the lead through an Anthony Watson try.
The hosts struck again just before half-time, when Josephs counter-attacked from inside his 22 and kicked ahead. Bernard le Roux did well to collect the loose ball but England forced the turnover and Youngs dived over under the crossbar. Ford followed his conversion with a penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 27-15.
France hit back early in the second half with a try from Maxime Mermoz, after Ford had kicked the ball out on the full to give the visitors an attacking lineout. But England restored their 12-point lead when Youngs burst through a gap and found Ford on his inside.
Kockott, on as a replacement, clawed three points back for France, before Jack Nowell scored England's fifth try to make it 41-25 after 54 minutes.
However, James Haskell was then yellow-carded for a brainless foot trip, and France made their one-man advantage count when Nakaitaci broke away, cut back inside past Brown and sent Vincent Debaty away for the try.
England responded with a five-pointer from Billy Vunipola only for the visitors to get their fifth try through Benjamin Kayser, with Kockott again missing the conversion.
There was more drama to come, with Nowell's second try, with six minutes to go, taking England past the 50-point mark and Farrell's conversion making it a 20-point margin.
But the hosts couldn't get another converted try and it was Ireland who celebrated at Murrayfield.
England – Tries: Ben Youngs (2), Anthony Watson, George Ford, Jack Nowell (2), Billy Vunipola. Conversions: George Ford (7). Penalties: Ford (2).
France – Tries: Sébastian Tillous-Borde, Noa Nakaitaci, Maxime Mermoz, Vincent Debaty, Benjamin Kayser. Conversions: Jules Plisson (2). Penalties: Plisson, Rory Kockott.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Geoff Parling, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.
France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Sébastian Tillous-Borde, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Vincent Debaty.
Subs: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Rabah Slimani, 18 Uini Atonio 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud.
Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images