England edge France in Twickenham thriller
SIX NATIONS REPORT: Maro Itoje’s try four minutes from time saw England dash France’s hopes of a Grand Slam with a 23-20 victory in the Six Nations at Twickenham on Saturday.
France were leading 20-16 but Itoje’s score, awarded by the television match official and then converted by skipper Owen Farrell, extended their 16-year-wait for a win over England at Twickenham.
Victory saw reigning champions England bounce back from their 24-40 defeat to Wales last time out.
It took France just two minutes to score the opening try of the match through star scrumhalf Antoine Dupont.
England, however, hit back through Anthony Watson’s try before two penalties from captain Owen Farrell saw them into a 13-7 lead.
France responded with a Matthieu Jalibert penalty before the flyhalf converted Damian Penaud’s try to give Les Bleus a 17-13 lead at half-time.
Jalibert and Farrell exchanged penalties early in the second half before Itoje powered his way over late on.
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Referee Andrew Brace initially decided that Itoje had been held up by Teddy Thomas and Cameron Woki but consulted TMO Joy Neville to make sure and she ruled that the lock had grounded the ball.
It was a sweet moment for Itoje after he had given away several penalties against Wales.
France, who’d already defeated Italy and Ireland, kicked off having had an extended break after their third-round match against Scotland was postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak in Les Bleus’ squad.
A second-string France had pushed England all the way before losing the Nations Cup final at Twickenham in December in sudden death extra time.
But that still left France searching for their first win over England since 2005 when Dimitri Yachvili kicked all of their points in an 18-17 victory.
Reigning champions England had already seen their hopes of a successful title defence ended by losses to Scotland and Wales either side of a win over perennial strugglers Italy.
England coach Eddie Jones benched senior players Elliot Daly and Jamie George, with fullback Max Malins, given a full debut, and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie taking their places.
But it was not long before Malins was left stranded.
France regained possession following an England box-kick and an eight-phase move saw powerful centre Virimi Vakatawa break clear.
He in turn found wing Teddy Thomas, who chipped over the head of Malins and Dupont, underlining his reputation as a brilliant support player, beat the England cover to the touchdown.
Jalibert added a tricky conversion and France led 7-0.
England then laid siege to the France line with a series of drives that led to a five-metre scrum. But when the ball was worked behind the pack, the chance of a try disappeared with Malins’s wild pass into touch.
But England were level in the 10th minute when a break by centre Henry Slade created an overlap out wide that allowed wing Watson to mark his 50th England cap with a 22nd Red Rose try.
Farrell converted and his two subsequent penalties, either side of a dynamic break by Watson that was a sign of the team’s increased willingness to attack from deep, saw England pull clear at 13-7.
Jalibert grounded a chip ahead on his own leg but, with Brace having played an advantage, he kicked a simple penalty in the 29th minute.
And three minutes later France were back in front.
From a line-out, centre Gael Fickou sold a fine dummy before Jalibert’s excellent lobbed miss-pass found wing Penaud in space for a try.
Jalibert and Farrell both landed penalties to leave France 20-16 ahead going into the final quarter before Itoje just did enough to pierce the French defence.
Man of the match: There were a number of contenders in this match. However, the award goes to England wing Anthony Watson. He gave France plenty of problems out wide and his defence was good as well. He also scored England’s first try of the match.
Moment of the match: Maro Itoje’s try in the 77th-minute try proved to be the difference in the end. And it could be the try to deny France a Six Nations title.
Villain: No one in this match
Tries: Watson, Itoje
Cons: Farrell 2
Pens: Farrell 3
Tries: Dupont, Penaud
Cons: Jalibert 2
Pens: Jalibert 2
England: 15 Max Malins, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Ollie Lawrence, 23 Elliot Daly.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Dylan Cretin, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Romain Taofifenua, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julian Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Cyril Cazeau, 20 Cameron Woki, 21 Anthony Jelonch, 22 Baptiste Serin, 23 Romain Ntamack.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)
AFP & @rugby365com