Six Nations: England beat France 19-16 to start title defence with win
|Six Nations: England v France|
|England: (9) 19|
|Try: Teo'o Con: Farrell Pens: Farrell 3, Daly|
|France: (9) 16|
|Try: Slimani Con: Lopez Pens: Lopez 3|
England overcame a disjointed first half and a resurgent France to come from behind and get their Six Nations defence off to a winning start by securing a national record 15th victory in a row.
Eddie Jones' men were fortunate to be level 9-9 at half-time and were four points down with time running out after a fine try from Rabah Slimani.
But, kept in touch by Owen Farrell's three penalties and one from Elliot Daly, their strength off the bench gradually seized control of a match that had been slipping away.
With their forwards at last making inroads with ball in hand and a tiring defence stretched, Ben Te'o's try finally brought Twickenham to full voice.
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The win saw the team pass the record of 14 straight victories set by Sir Clive Woodward's men in the run-up to their 2003 World Cup win, and means they are only three wins away from equalling the all-time record set by New Zealand last year.
It also extended France's dismal run in this fixture to six successive defeats on the road, yet the men in blue were transformed from the stodgy outfit of recent memory, and England will be hugely relieved to have found a way through.
England start slowly again
After an early exchange of penalties, Jonny May was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Gael Fickou, Camille Lopez making it 6-3 and the hosts again uncertain out of the blocks.
France scrum-half Baptiste Serin was enjoying his Twickenham debut, his big runners making inroads and George Ford struggling to exert any control.
England were grateful for Farrell's boot to be within three points half-an-hour in, and a long-ranger from Daly levelled up an uneven match at 9-9.
Desperate defence kept Virimi Vakatawa and Scott Spedding out just before the break, France without a lead to show for six clean breaks and 344 metres made in those first 40 minutes.
French flair punishes hosts
France came again after the interval, Vakatawa breaking down the left after a Farrell penalty came back off the post, the impressive Louis Picamoles marching it deep into England territory and Courtney Lawes producing a huge tackle to keep the blue shirts at bay.
A fabulous delayed pass from Ford appeared to have put Daly into the left-hand corner only for the TMO to rule, correctly, that the winger's foot was in touch as he dived over, and a fraught contest broke further open still.
Ford was into his rhythm, space opening up as his dummy runners stretched the French defence, Farrell kicking his fourth penalty on 54 minutes after sustained pressure to nudge England ahead for the first time.
France coach Guy Noves went to his bench, swapping out his props and opting for the experience of Maxime Machenaud over Serin, and it was the visitors who struck back in style.
In classic French style, offloads from first Sebastian Vahaamahina and then his fellow forward Kevin Gourdon sent prop Slimani under the posts, Lopez's conversion making it 16-12 to Les Bleus.
England find a way
Now it was Jones who threw on fresh legs, James Haskell and Te'o bringing the much-needed muscle, Danny Care and Jack Nowell the pace, Farrell to fly-half, Daly to outside centre.
After a series of drives that battered holes in the French defence, Farrell took quick ball and sent Te'o smashing over for his first Six Nations try, the talismanic Saracens man adding the conversion for 19-16.
At last Twickenham had its voice, with France wearied by their earlier efforts, and England will travel to Cardiff for Saturday's encounter with Wales knowing they must improve significantly if a second Grand Slam is to follow.
Man of the match
Maro Itoje pushed him close, while Picamoles and Spedding were a constant menace for France, but Farrell's accuracy under pressure and remorseless defence saved his side from a chastening opening-day defeat.
What do the coach and captain think?
England captain Dylan Hartley: "We got through that one and a huge amount of credit needs to go to our finishers today. Ben Te'o and James Haskell gave us some go-forward at the end there.
"Week one of the tournament we'll take that win, but there's plenty to work on. It keeps us grounded, keeps us ready for next week and we'll have to be a lot better to prepare for Wales."
England head coach Eddie Jones: "I felt some players were still in their club mentality so that's something we need to work on. We were disjointed in attack and we lacked urgency in defence.
"Now we know what we've got to work on, we will get there. The finishers made a fantastic impact on the game - that is the strength of our team, we have a brilliant 23-man squad."
What is the pundit's view?
Matt Dawson, 2003 World Cup winner: France were better than England in a lot of areas, but the strength of this England side was in their fitness and ability to play under pressure.
I have got to give huge credit to the substitutions for England because they were the difference in the end.
England: Brown; May, Joseph, Farrell, Daly; Ford, Youngs; Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Lawes, Itoje, Wood, Hughes.
Replacements: Te'o for Ford (69), Care for Youngs (66), Mullan for Marler (66), George for Hartley (55), Haskell for Launchbury (64), Nowell for Joseph (69)
Not Used: Sinckler, Harrison
Sin Bin: May (13).
France: Spedding; Nakaitaci, Lamerat, Fickou, Vakatawa; Lopez, Serin; Baille, Guirado, Atonio, Vahaamahina, Maestri, Chouly, Gourdon, Picamoles.
Replacements: Huget for Lamerat (72), Doussain for Lopez (72), Machenaud for Serin (57), Slimani for Baille (46), Maynadier for Guirado (72), Chiocci for Atonio (46), Iturria for Vahaamahina (72), Goujon for Chouly (64).
|6 (1)||Scrums won (lost)||9 (0)|
|15 (1)||Line-outs won (lost)||9 (2)|
|79 (0)||Rucks/mauls won (lost)||80 (3)|
|33||Kicks from hand||25|
|99 (24)||Tackles made (missed)||85 (13)|