London - Replacement
back Ben Teo's try nine minutes from time saw England beat France 19-16
on Saturday as they launched their Six Nations title defence with a
national record 15th successive victory.
A lacklustre England were in trouble at 16-12 behind after France
replacement Rabah Slimani scored the game's first try on the hour mark
France, edged out by Australia and world champions New Zealand in
November, could not hold on once again, with Teo's 71st-minute try,
converted by Owen Farrell, proving decisive.
Victory saw this England side surpass the previous national best of
14 wins in a row they had shared with the 2002-03 side that went on to
win the 2003 World Cup.
A scrappy and try-less first half which saw England wing Jonny May sin-binned for a dangerous tackle ended all square at 9-9.
France flyhalf Camille Lopez's three successful penalties were
cancelled out by two from England centre Owen Farrell and a huge
48-metre kick by Elliot Daly.
Another Farrell penalty made it 12-9 before the tries arrived in the
closing stages to preserve Australian coach Eddie Jones's perfect record
as England boss.
Injuries saw Jones reshape England's pack.
Maro Itoje, best known as a lock, made his first Test start in the
back-row after blindside flank and former England captain Chris
Robshaw was ruled out of the entire Six Nations with a shoulder injury
With George Kruis, Itoje's lock partner at both Saracens and England,
out with a knee problem, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury started in
the second row.
Prop Joe Marler - crediting gallons of milk for a quicker than
expected return from a fractured leg - replaced the injured Mako
France were quick out of the blocks in front of the packed Twickenham
crowd, with Fiji-born wing Virimi Vakatawa launching an attack.
Lopez then kicked a penalty before Farrell responded in kind.
England were a man down in the 13th minute. With World Rugby having
announced a crackdown on dangerous tackles, May was sent to the sin-bin
by Australian referee Angus Gardner for 'lifting' France centre Gael
Lopez kicked the penalty and added another in the 20th minute to make it 9-3.
Farrell then cut the deficit with his second penalty after May had returned.
The game then started to open up with France's South Africa-born
fullback Scott Spedding launching wing Noa Nakaitaci, like Vakatawa
originally from Fiji, down the right only for England scrumhalf Ben
Youngs to counter-attack on the break.
Lopez missed a long-range kick but Daly's mammoth effort drew England level at 9-9.
There was still time left in the half for France to test England's
defence as Vakatawa and Spedding combined before Lopez switched play
with a clever cross-kick.
But May held up the onrushing French backs and Itoje's good breakdown work secured a relieving penalty.
England's scrum won a penalty early in the second half but Farrell's effort came back off the post.
England centre Jonathan Joseph then chipped over the defence but he
was beaten to the touchdown by talented France scrumhalf Baptiste
Minutes later, England came even closer to a try but Nakaitaci forced Daly into touch.
Sustained England pressure resulted in a simple penalty chance inside the 22 and Farrell made no mistake.
France, however, continued to threaten and the visitors scored a
deserved try when, after a jinking run by Lopez, flank Kevin Gourdon
sent in Slimani for a score by the posts.
Lopez converted and France led by four points.
But it was front row Slimani who gave away a scrum penalty that set up an England line-out inside France's 22.
Itoje won the set-piece but Farrell slipped as the ball went through the backs.
England retained their composure and, later in the move, Farrell's
pass found Te'o - who had only been on the field a few minutes as one
of several replacements sent on by Jones - and he went in from close
range on the over-lap.
Farrell converted and England saw out the closing minutes.