France 24-17 England: Les Bleus storm to Six Nations win
Le Bleus kick off 2020 campaign with impressive home victory in Paris
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 02/02/20 10:14pm
A magnificent display full of energy and zeal saw a youthful France dispatch England 24-17 at the Stade de France on Sunday in the Six Nations.
Tries from Vincent Rattez and captain Charles Ollivon (two), in addition to a 100 per cent kicking performance from fly-half Romain Ntamack saw France steam into a 24-0 lead.
England responded via two superb Jonny May tries, but were left with too much to do despite further spells of possession, scoring again only via a last-gasp Owen Farrell penalty, which secured a losing bonus-point.
Eddie Jones' charges travel to play Scotland at Murrayfield in Round 2 next Saturday, while France host Italy in Paris on Sunday.
France were over as early as the sixth minute, when wing Teddy Thomas made an incisive line-break before Ntamack fed a lovely inside ball to Rattez - a Ben Youngs missed tackle seeing the La Rochelle wing dive over.
A series of England penalties at the ruck within their own 22 presented France further momentum, and also allowed Ntamack to strike over a superb penalty on the angle after 16 minutes.
England required an urgent riposte, and though they put together 15 phases, they gained next to no ground before George Ford kicked possession away.
France skipper Ollivon next sprinted over for a second try on 20 minutes as Les Blues' rampant start continued in earnest - the score surviving a TMO review for a potential knock-on in what was a very tight call as to whether Courtney Lawes knocked the back ball himself or via the France flanker.
Either way, the call went France's way and when Ntamack converted brilliantly again, the score was a daunting 17-0 to the home side.
France continued to disrupt England lineout ball and force errors from Jones' side, who seemed to have no answer to France's fervour.
An offside penalty against France allowed England territory deep in the 22, but even then, France No 8 Gregory Alldritt got over the ball to win a priceless breakdown turnover metres from his own line.
Into the second half, England needed an early score to get into the game and a wonderful Ford kick to touch followed by a wayward France five-metre lineout handed them the perfect chance. England elected for two five-metre scrums when earning penalties thereafter, but Maro Itoje eventually knocked on a metre out in a massive moment.
On 55 minutes, scintillating play from France scrum-half Dupont in midfield saw the half-back slalom through English shirts and break down the left before finding skipper Ollivon on his inside, who then used the wet conditions to slide over.
England responded almost immediately via a May try, which was all of the England wing's own making - chipping ahead twice, before sprinting to the line and grounding.
And with 15 minutes left, May scored again courtesy of another outstanding solo try, taking the ball up the right touchline and searing inside past three French shirts to dive over.
Farrell's conversion left things 24-14, but though England had further spells of pressure, the closest they got to another try was George Kruis being held up.
A mix-up in French ranks saw Dupont kick the ball dead ahead of the end of the game, but though it subsequently allowed Farrell to kick a penalty and earn a losing bonus-point, it mattered little in the context of the Test.
France had a first 40 minutes to remember, where near enough everything clicked into place.
It was their largest half-time lead over England since 2004 - exemplifying the calibre of their performance.
Several young performers stood out: Dupont at scrum-half was classy, Aldritt and Ollivon in the back-row were phenomenal, while their back division of Ntamack, Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Rattez, Thomas and Anthony Bouthier (on debut) will trouble most in the world.
A special note for full-back Bouthier, who four years ago was playing in the fourth tier of French rugby, and was in the second tier as recently as last year. A meteoric rise.
Lastly, Shaun Edwards was hired by France to improve defence and work-rate, and he will be delighted with this first hit out.
England failed to score a point in the opening half here - the first time this has happened in a Championship match for 32 years (1988).
Such an incredible stat is indicative of the lethargy they displayed in an opening period where France ran riot for large parts.
0 - England have failed to score a point in the first half of a 5/6 Nations game for the first time since 1988, while this is their biggest halftime deficit in the tournament since 2007 when they trailed Ireland 3-23 at the break. Blank. pic.twitter.com/HR8xbzZgCn— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 2, 2020
France's second try - whether controversial or not - will also make for appalling viewing when looking back. May and Lawes both stopped expecting a whistle - the former pausing mid-tackle and allowing France to race away for a try.
Jones' side also had some six visits to the France 22 without scoring a point - that sort of profligacy will prove costly in most Tests they play.
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Deserved win for France. Sharper, disciplined, controlled and clever. Painful lessons for England. Big challenge ahead........— Will Carling (@willcarling) February 2, 2020