Last gasp Itoje try defeats France in tight game

England (23) – France (20)

A spirited performance by England was enough to overcome a young, hungry France who looked to overcome history to keep their hopes of winning the six nations alive. An early try from French scrum half Antoine Dupon was a statement of intent – the French were desperate to win this one.

However, in this enthralling game, England still triumphed led by man of the match Anthony Watson. After constant French pressure, England stepped up and Itoje powered through a strong French defence in the final five minutes to win the game. A painful loss for France who’s six nations hopes were effectively ended.

French coach Galthie made four changes to his side for this fixture, while Eddie Jones brought in a new full-back, Max Malins, for his debut.

This fixture has been England’s on a regular basis. England’s last defeat to France in the Six Nations came 16 years ago. An outlandish amount of time that France wanted to put an end to today.

France needed to disrupt history in order to keep their title challenges alive. A win today would have brought the French within reaching distance of Wales who sit at the top of the table.

The French squad were coming back from a Coronavirus outbreak which had swept through their camp, this was France’s first game in a month – although they didn’t seem phased by it, looking fresher than ever with their dream-like start to the game.

The French came out of the gates strong, with the first try of the game just 81 seconds in. A perfectly weighted kick from Teddy Thomas looped over debutant Max Malin to find France’s star man Antoine Dupon who confidently tapped the out-of-control ball into his hands and proceeded to skip over the try line.

There was a strong immediate response from Jones’ men who hit back straight away in the 9th minute. A powerful run from Henry Slade led to an Anthony Watson try – a special try for Watson who was playing in his 50th test cap.

During their period on top Owen Farrell converted two penalties for the English bringing their lead up to 13-7.

France didn’t back down from the English threat, Matthieu Jailbert converted a penalty for his team  before a brilliant team try from the French backs. A training ground move split the English line effortlessly with some on-point, perfect passing which ended with Damian Penaud try. France were suddenly ahead again going into the half.

The French struck first once again coming out of the break after some well-timed pressure, Jailbert converted an easy penalty to take France’s lead up to 7 points. Within a couple of minutes Farrell replied with a penalty of his own. 16-20 to the French – What a game that this was shaping up to be, the atmosphere would surely have been electric if the empty stands of Twickenham were instead full of fans.

After an immense effort during the first half both teams tired around the 60th minute. Both coaches looked to capitalise with a flurry of changes. The structure of both teams was waning, the game was there for the taking.

Jones’ changes worked wonders, the substitutes, led by the bright-haired Ellis Genge, put England on top going into the final 20 minutes.

The French defensive line was hanging on by a thread – desperate to keep their grand slam hopes alive. But they couldn’t stop Mario Itoje who barrelled his way through the French line for a try with just four minutes to go. There was an agonising wait for both teams for what seemed like an eternity while the try was checked over by the officials.

France launched a last-gasp attack however it was abruptly ended by an uncharacteristic knock on by French scrum-half Dupon.

A much-needed win for English rugby, a spirited response after a disappointing six nations campaign and a devastating loss for France who saw their grand slam hopes go down the drain.

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