England’s brave attempt falls just short in Twickenham thriller

Sides run in 12 tries between them in helter-skelter finale to Six Nations

England  get held up just short of the try line in the dying seconds of the  Six Nations  match against France at Twickenham Stadium. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

England get held up just short of the try line in the dying seconds of the Six Nations match against France at Twickenham Stadium. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

 

England 55 France 35

England fell short of being crowned Six Nations champions for the first time under Stuart Lancaster despite toppling France 55-35 in an electrifying evening of mayhem at Twickenham.

Set the task of winning by 26 points following Ireland’s 40-10 victory in Edinburgh, they emptied the tanks in pursuit of a goal that remained elusive despite amassing seven tries in a thrilling clash that saw the whitewash breached a total of 12 times.

England will reflect on the tries conceded to Italy and missed chances butchered against Scotland with profound regret knowing they fell just six points short of lifting the trophy.

An afternoon of high drama ebbed and flowed across the three staggered kicks-offs, beginning in Rome and sweeping to Edinburgh before a gloriously chaotic climax at Twickenham.

For 13 minutes home fans dared to dream as they celebrated Ben Youngs’s try after just 95 seconds and watched giddily as France were repeatedly over-run in an opening that bristled with attacking intent.

Opportunist tries from Sebastien Tillous-Borde and Noa Nakaitaci that had their origins in English handling errors appeared to have swept the title out of reach, but it was only the beginning of a hair-raising showdown that at times defied logic.

It finished with mass ranks of white shirts mounting one final assault on the French line in search of the Championship-winning converted try, only for the whistle of referee Nigel Owens to intervene with seconds left.

The clinical touch that had been missing against Scotland was evident inside the opening two minutes as Jonathan Joseph, Mike Brown and Ford linked before Youngs arrived to fall over the line.

Handling errors from Luther Burrell and James Haskell interrupted English momentum, but white shirts continued to swarm over France at every turn.

The frantic start had Twickenham on its feet – the East Stand shook as the 82,000 sell-out crowd celebrated Youngs’s try – but England’s ambition proved their downfall as they leaked two tries in four minutes.

The first came when a Youngs pass under pressure flew through the hands of Courtney Lawes and fell to an unmarked Tillous-Borde on an empty blindside and the scrumhalf easily outpaced prop Dan Cole.

England were undone for a second time in the 18th minute when the blundering Haskell gifted possession to Scott Spedding, who launched a counter-attack that ran through the hands of Gael Fickou until reaching Nakaitaci who touched down without an inch to spare.

Gael Plisson’s neck whiplashed backwards as he was drilled by a ferocious tackle from Lawes and shortly after French reprisals over the challenge had ceased, George Ford was able to land a penalty.

A converted try followed after Youngs had weaved his way his way into space before giving the final pass to Watson, nudging England back in front on the half-hour mark.

And the lead grew to nine points following a roller-coaster passage of play that began with a quick throw in from Ford to Joseph and ended with Youngs running in his second try after Mike Brown had taken a quick penalty

Owens reacted to a scuffle behind the posts with a warning to captains Chris Robshaw and Thierry Dusautoir that the behaviour was “unacceptable”.

Ford finished the first half with a penalty – England now led 27-15 – but then kicked out on the full soon after play resumed to invite the pressure that led to France’s third try.

Blue shirts pounded at the line until hooker Guilhem Guirado expertly slipped a pass out of the tackle for Maxime Mermoz to touch down.

A roller-coaster match continued its unpredictable path as the electrifying Youngs exploited a gap around the breakdown and raced clear until Ford arrived in support to finish the chance.

The title edged farther towards Ireland when substitute Rory Kockott rifled over a penalty, but England’s response of a try through Jack Nowell after Lawes had won a critical turnover was evidence of their unwillingness to give up hope.

Haskell did his team no favours, however, when he flicked out a leg to trip Plisson and was sent to the sin-bin.

Poor defending on the right wing allowed France to plunder their fourth try, Nakaitaci escaping before finding loosehead prop Vincent Debaty of all people in support.

The benches were emptied as the final quarter mark passed with Danny Cipriani among the new arrivals, slotting in at fullback, but it was starting number eight Billy Vunipola who drove over next with help from brother Mako.

Twisting and turning, the game’s next major incident saw France substitute hooker Benjamin Kayser burrow across the whitewash, only for Nowell to switch on the afterburners to renew English hopes.

Leading 55-35, England now needed just one converted try and when they kicked a penalty for touch they had the platform they needed.

A scrum penalty against France cranked up the tension to unbearable proportions, but a final drive was penalised inches short of the line and the dream was over.

ENGLAND: Brown; Watson, Joseph, Burrell, Nowell; Ford, B Youngs; Marler, Hartley, Cole, Parling, Lawes, Haskell, Robshaw, B Vunipola.

Replacements: T Youngs for Hartley (53 mins), Cipriani for Watson, M Vunipola for Marler, Brookes for Cole (all 63 mins), Easter for Parling, Wood for Haskell (both 68 mins), Twelvetrees for Burrell, Wigglesworth for B. Youngs (both 73 mins). Sin Bin: Haskell (57) mins

FRANCE: Spedding; Huget, Fickou, Mermoz, Nakaitaci; Plisson, Tillous-Borde; Debaty, Guirado, Mas; Flanquart, Maestri; Dusautoir, Le Roux, Goujon.

Replacements: Kayser for Guirado, Atonio for Mas (both 47 mins), Kockott for Tillous-Borde (48 mins), Chouly for Goujon (63 mins), Taofifenua for Maestri (67 mins), Bastareaud for Mermoz, Tales for Plisson (both 73 mins). Not used: Slimani.

Attendance: 82,319

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.