Crazy win not enough for England

Date published: March 21 2015

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England won 55-35 against France at Twickenham in a crazy game but it wasn't enough to claim the Six Nations title, which is retained by Ireland.

Ben Youngs scored the first try of the game in the opening minute, and from then it was back and forth all game, with England taking advantage of their greater fitness to run in seven tries.

France played their part, scoring five tries of their own, but missed 12  points with the boot and failed to take advantage of a period of first-half dominance before running out of steam.

Youngs and Jack Nowell scored two tries apiece to leave England needing a converted try in the final seconds but after the ball was turned over, Rory Kockott kicked it out to put paid to England's hopes.

Anthony Watson, George Ford and Billy Vunipola scored the other English tries, with Sébastien Tillous-Borde, Noa Nakaitaci, Maxime Mermoz and Vincent Debaty crossing for les Bleus.

England grabbed the first try after just two minutes, taking advantage of a mix-up in midfield by the French. Jonathan Joseph pounced on a loose ball before finding Mike Brown outside him.

With the French scrambling, Brown fed Ford, and while he couldn't get over he had Youngs on his shoulder for the score. Ford converted and England were 7-0 up in no time.

It could have been even better for the home side after a powerful scrum earned them a penalty, but Ford was off-target from 45 metres out.

And having made a calamitous start, France finally got a foothold in the match after ten minutes when Thierry Dusautoir got in at a breakdown to earn a penalty, with Jules Plisson slotting the three points.

From that moment France took control, taking advantage of an English mistake to score their first try. Youngs was scragged in a ruck and the loose ball was scooped up by Tillous-Borde who sprinted 60 metres to score. Plisson missed the conversion, but France were leading 8-7.

France almost blew another try when Nakaitaci sprinted over, but he tried to go under the posts and was tackled by Youngs. He was on the verge of going dead in-goal, getting the ball a fraction of a second before his foot went touched the dead-ball area, much to his relief. Plisson's conversion made it 15-7.

After England's good start, it was all France, and they almost had a third when Nakaitaci again got away down the left, but England just scrambled in time to stop Alexandre Flanquart getting the final pass away with his winger awaiting a return pass.

Les Bleus had also turned things around in the scrum, but Plisson missed an easy shot at goal when Joe Marler was penalised in the English 22.

The game was being played at a ferocious pace, but it came to a shuddering stop when Courtney Lawes put in a huge hit on Plisson. While the ball had gone, the tackle was deemed legal with Lawes having launched into the tackle before the pass was made. 

The game had been stopped and required a scrum to restart, and this time France were penalised, with Ford cutting the deficit to five points.

France came back and should have stretched their lead back to eight but Plisson again was off-target when Dan Cole went off his feet in a ruck.

And on the half-hour England took the lead again, with Watson taking advantage of a great run by Youngs. The scrum-half had fed Ford, and while he was tackled, Nakaitaci ripped the ball away but it bounced kindly for England and James Haskell put Watson over in the corner. Ford converted to make it 17-15.

The momentum was with England and they went over again five minutes later with a stunning counter-attack. After Ford had been charged down, the ball went into touch five metres out. England took the lineout quickly and Joseph got away. His kick-through was collected by Bernard le Roux who was immediately under pressure from Burrell.

The centre seemed to go off his feet but the decision went the other way as France were accused of sealing. The penalty was taken quickly and Youngs slipped out of le Roux's tackle to score. In front of the posts Ford made it 24-15.

There was still time for more points, with Mermoz obstructing Joseph on a kick-chase, and Ford completing the half with another penalty to make it 27-15 at the break.

Trailing by 12 points after a crazy half, France needed an instant response and they got one after just two minutes. Some great work off a lineout saw them work their way into the English 22, and after a number of charges Guilhem Guirado produced a delightful offload out of the tackle for Mermoz to go over. Plisson converted to bring France back to within five points.

The intensity wasn't about to let up though, and England came straight back with a try from Ford. Youngs spotted a gap as France struggled to get back at a ruck and after he sprinted through Ford was on hand to go under the posts. His conversion made it 34-22 to England.

France turned to their bench and when Marler couldn't resist and put his hands into a ruck, Rory Kockott added three points with the help of the post to bring the deficit back to nine points.

But it was only temporary respite, with England turning the ball over in the French 22 and le Roux leaving Nowell free to run in a try on the left. With Ford's conversion England led 41-25 and were ten points away from claiming the title.

Their task got harder though when Haskell tripped Plisson and was sent for ten minutes in the sin-bin.

Still, France were struggling in the lineout, and missed the chance to get back onto the front foot with an overthrown lineout by Kayser.

While they looked out on their feet, France weren't done yet, and Debaty completed a stunning counter-attacking try. After Mermoz had put Nakaitaci into space, the winger couldn't go all the way, but stayed on his feet long enough to feed Debaty in support to score in the corner. Kockott couldn't convert however and the deficit remained at 11 points.

It didn't stay that way for long, as England managed their sixth try despite being a man down, with Vunipola crashing over from close range, but every time England looked to be back in with a shout of winning the Championship, they let France back in.

This time it was after a powerful rolling maul, with Kayser the man to emerge from the pile of bodies. Again the conversion was off-target, bringing the French tally up to 12 points missed with the boot.

England needed 13 points and they set up a grandstand finish with a try off the back of a scrum, going through the backs and sending Nowell over. With Ford's conversion England needed a converted try with three minutes to go.

They had their chance when they had a lineout five metres out but the French won a penalty and Kockott eventually kicked it out to hand the title to the Irish.

Man of the match: There were many candidates, but in the end we've got to go with Ben Youngs who scored two tries and was involved in a number of others. Arguably his finest performance in an England shirt, even if it wasn't quite enough.

Moment of the match: How do you pick in a game with 12 tries? We'll go with Ford's try early in the second half. That try seemed to definitively kill off the French challenge and set England up to chase the title.

Villain of the match: The trip from Haskell was pretty careless and did deprive England of a man for ten minutes.

The scorers:

For England:
Tries: B. Youngs 2, Watson, Ford, Nowell 2, B. Vunipola
Cons: Ford 6
Pens: Ford 2
Yellow Card: Haskell 

For France:
Tries: Tillous-Borde, Nakaitaci, Mermoz, Debaty, Kayser
Cons: Plisson 2
Pens: Plisson, Kockott

The teams: 

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
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kieron 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.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Rabah Slimani, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud

Venue: Twickenham, London
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

By Paul Eddison

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