England got the job done but were made to graft for their 19-16 win over France in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham on Saturday.
Although their campaign started with a win – and they have now stretched their winning run to 15 successive Tests – the defending champions’ boss, Eddie Jones, will not be happy with his side’s effort as they had to dig deep to win this one.
In a tough and uncompromising encounter in which France’s physicality in the tight exchanges seemed to surprise their hosts, both sides crossed for a try apiece.
France’s pack deserve plenty of credit as they continued to dominate as the game progressed with inspirational number eight Louis Picamoles particularly impressive, while the likes of Sébastien Vahaamahina and Kévin Gourdon were not far behind as les Bleus won the collisions and held a slight edge in the tight exchanges.
If the truth be told, England were somewhat lucky to win this Test as they delivered a sluggish performance littered with unforced errors on attack and defence and it took a 71st-minute try from Ben Te’o to secure them the result.
The visitors had the better of the early exchanges and took the lead in the eighth minute when Camille Lopez opened the scoring with a penalty but that lead did not last as Owen Farrell drew his side level with a penalty of his own three minutes later.
England suffered a setback in the 13th minute, however, when Jonny May was sent to the sin bin for a tip tackle on Gaël Fickou.
Lopez made the home side pay when he slotted the resulting penalty and added another three-pointer from the kicking tee in the 21st minute when Maro Itoje was penalised for a high tackle on Picamoles.
The hosts struck back three minutes later, when Farrell added his second penalty after Vahaamahina infringed at a ruck and three minutes before half-time they drew level via an Elliot Daly penalty from close to the halfway mark after France’s front row were blown up for illegal scrummaging.
The sides went into the break deadlocked at 9-9 but England showed more urgency when they came out for the second half although they had little to show for their improved effort.
Shortly after the restart, Farrell had a chance to extend his side’s lead from the kicking tee but his penalty attempt was wide of the uprights. And shortly afterwards, Daly thought he had crossed for the opening try but his effort was ruled out when television replays showed he had a foot in touch after a superb cover tackle from Noa Nakaitaci.
England eventually took the lead in the 55th minute when Farrell slotted his third penalty after Lamerat was penalised at a breakdown but France stunned the Twickenham faithful when Rabah Slimani got over for the opening try after Vahaamahina and Gourdon combined brilliantly in the build-up.
Lopez added the extras and with less than 20 minutes left on the clock, the champions upped the ante on attack in a bid to regain the lead.
They were eventually rewarded ten minutes later when, after taking the ball through several phases in France’s 22, Te’o ran a brilliant angle before gathering a well-timed pass from Farrell to cross for what would prove to be the matchwinning try.
Pens: Farrell 3, Daly
Yellow Card: May
Pens: Lopez 3
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Jack Nowell
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Yoann Huget, 23 Jean-Marc Doussain
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)