France 24-17 England: England lose Six Nations opener in Paris

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer at the Stade de France
2020 Six Nations: France v England
France (17) 24
Tries: Rattez, Ollivon 2 Con: Ntamack 3 Pens: Ntamack
England (0) 17
Tries: May 2 Cons: Farrell 2 Pen: Farrell

World Cup finalists England fell to a chastening defeat by a resurgent France as their Six Nations hopes wilted in the Parisian rain.

Coach Eddie Jones had talked of unleashing a brutal physicality upon a callow France side with an average of just 10 caps apiece.

But it was France who tenderised England in a one-sided first half, converted tries from Vincent Rattez and captain Charles Ollivon plus a Romain Ntamack penalty opening up a deserved 17-point lead.

Ollivon dived over for his second try to stretch that advantage to 24, before two brilliant solo scores from Jonny May suddenly brought hope in the final quarter.

But England could add only a late Owen Farrell penalty, their hopes of only a second Grand Slam in 17 years disintegrating in the face of a France defence superbly drilled by Shaun Edwards.

Jones said his team wanted to become the greatest team in history, but they were second-best to Fabien Galthie's new wave of Gallic talents.

New-look France tear into England

In a febrile atmosphere England made early inroads when Sam Underhill capitalised on an overthrown line-out to thunder deep into the French 22 before his back-row partner Tom Curry spilt the ball in the tackle.

But it was France who struck first to light up the stadium, Teddy Thomas with a quicksilver break down the right before left wing Rattez - only in as a late replacement for Damian Penaud - cut a cute line on Ntamack's inside shoulder to crash through Ben Youngs' tackle and over.

Ntamack popped over the conversion, and when England's forwards were penalised at a ruck a few metres from their own line, the young fly-half landed his second kick to extend the lead to 10 points.

Worse was to come for the men in white. Talismanic centre Manu Tuilagi limped off, to be replaced by Jonathan Joseph, then France struck a second hammer blow.

As Ollivon challenged for a kick ahead, England stopped, expecting referee Nigel Owens to blow for a knock-on. But the whistle never came, and Ollivon galloped 30 metres to dive into the left-hand corner.

Ntamack's nerveless conversion made it 17-0, tricolors being waved frantically all round celebrating stands as the brass band behind the England posts blasted out the Can-Can.

Under that intense aural and physical assault England's errors began to mount, debutant George Furbank dropping one pass, captain Owen Farrell knocking on another.

Not since 1988 had England been kept scoreless at half-time in a Five or Six Nations match, but the scoreline reflected a fractured and ugly display.

2020 Six Nations
TeamPlayedWonLostBonus pointsPoints

May day comes too late for battered England

A year ago France led Wales by 16 points in their opening game of the tournament only to capitulate in a dramatic second half.

And when England opted to take a scrum on successive penalties in front of the France posts the pressure was finally on Galthie's side, only for Joseph to have the ball stripped as he took a short pass five metres out, and then Itoje knock on in a subsequent ruck.

It was the seventh time England had been within five metres of the France tryline without coming way with a point, and Jones rang the changes.

Luke Cowan-Dickie came on for Jamie George and Ellis Genge for Joe Marler with half an hour to go, but it initially did nothing to stem the irresistible blue tide.

May was turned over by replacement prop Jefferson Poirot, and when scrum-half Antoine Dupont stepped through a static defence there was Ollivon once again to slide over the line.

At 24-0 England were facing humiliation, the noise around the Stade de France defeaning.

May's opportunistic try after kicking ahead with 23 minutes left provided a desperately needed ray of sunshine for England on a sodden, grey afternoon.

And he conjured up something even better eight minutes later, racing on to Elliot Daly's fast, flat past to carve past three weary defenders and under the posts.

From nowhere England had hope, France mangling a line-out in their own 22 after a clever George Ford kick to set up a series of drives.

But replacement scrum-half Willie Heinz lost the ball as he tried to burst through off a ruck, and, although George Kruis was held up over the line at the death, France held on to secure a famous win.

Man of the match: Antoine Dupont

Antoine Dupont
Captain Charles Ollivon and number eight Gregory Alldritt had fine games, but scrum-half Antoine Dupont helped create two of his side's three tries, his half-back partnership with Romain Ntamack promising much as France build towards a home World Cup.

'Everyone made errors today' - what the BBC pundits said

Former England captain Dylan Hartley: "It was a collective - everyone made errors today. From one to 15, guys were making errors and that's why we had such a poor performance. The best thing to do is restart, that's all you can do. If we eradicate personal errors, we're in that game."

Former England centre Jeremy Guscott: "Eddie Jones must be fuming. You can't have that many entries into the opposition 22 and come away with zero. The tries England scored were literally flashes of brilliance from Jonny May."

Former England captain Martin Johnson: "England needed to turn pressure into scores. You need more subtlety against a big, strong team like France because they can defend all day."


France: Bouthier; Thomas, Vakatawa, Fickou, Rattez; Ntamack, Dupont; Baille, Marchand, Haouas, Le Roux, Willemse, Cros, Ollivon (c), Alldritt.

Replacements: Poirot for Baille (49), Bamba for Haouas (49), Palu for Willemse (57), Woki for Cros (57), Mauvaka for Marchand (67), Jalibert for Ntamack (77) Vincent for Vakatawa (80).

Replacements not used: Serin.

England: Furbank; May, Tuilagi, Farrell (c), Daly; Ford, Youngs; Marler, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Ewels, Lawes, Underhill, Curry.

Replacements: Joseph for Tuilagi (16), Cowan-Dickie for George (49), Genge for Marler (52), Ludlam for Lawes (54), Kruis for Ewels (57), Heinz for Young (62), Stuart for Sinckler (73), Devoto for Ford (76).

Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).


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