Big match verdict: England survive France scare in Six Nations opener to break national record

Jonny May and Nathan Hughes celebrate England's victory (Photo: PA)

Jonny May and Nathan Hughes celebrate England's victory (Photo: PA)

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IT LOOKED, for large periods, that England’s bid to make history would end in a messy heap and, furthermore, the entire RBS 6 Nations would be turned on its head on opening day.

However, whereas favourites Ireland were stunned 27-22 in Scotland earlier this afternoon, the reigning champions rallied from behind to beat a spirited French side at Twickenham and keep their dream of back-to-back Grand Slams alive.

In doing so, Eddie Jones’ England made it a record-breaking 15 successive wins, eclipsing the previous best of Sir Clive Woodward’s side in 2002-03.

However, they were far from their best and needed a 70th minute try from replacement centre Ben Te’o to snatch victory, continuing Les Bleus’ misery at this ground where they have only won once this century.

France, though, initially made a mockery of the pre-match odds - they were massive 5/1 outsiders to win - as they tore into Jones’ side early on.

Although the score was level 9-9 at half-time after Camille Lopez had traded penalties with Owen Farrell (2) and Elliot Daly, the vibrant visitors were clearly the more inventive and dangerous side.

England's Ben Te'o scores the match-winning try (Photo: PA)

England's Ben Te'o scores the match-winning try (Photo: PA)

Indeed, better decision-making on the stroke of half-time would have seen them score the game’s first try as England were left short following a crossfield kick while Scott Spedding, the dynamic French full-back, was a constant threat with ball in hand.

With the rampaging No8 Louis Picamoles busting holes in England’s defence regularly and giant Fijian wingers Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa both causing problems, the hosts were glad to see the break.

Sloppy in the line-out, slow at the breakdown and rarely creating anything of note, it was arguably the worst half of rugby since Jones took over prior to last year’s tournament.

Furthermore, Jonny May was also yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Gael Fickou.

Admittedly, they started the second period with much more spark, Owen Farrell - once more showing his world-class - beginning to create some space in midfield.

After he saw a penalty strike a post, they were desperately unlucky his break did not end with a try, too, Daly’s foot just grazing the touchline before touching down.

But they wasted a 5m attacking scrum when France forced them back and won a penalty, a moment that seemed to revive Guy Noves’ side just as they looked ready to crumble.

Farrell pen did put England briefly ahead with his fourth penalty in the 55th minute but, against the run of play, France responded.

For all their backs had shown glimpses of verve, it was their forwards who combined wonderfully, lock Sebastien Vahaamahina’s fine offload seeing flanker Kevin Gourdon swiftly furnish replacement prop Rabah Slimani with a try that Lopez converted for a 16-12 lead.

However, crucially, Jones saw his bench make a real impact to rescue the game and maintain his 100 per cent record as Red Rose coach.

The Australian boldly replaced both half-backs George Ford and Ben Youngs and it paid off.

Moments after coming on, Te’o burst onto a lovely pass from Farrell - switched to 10 - after great service from Danny Care, the substitute scrum-half, who immediately pepped England up.

James Haskell, who had also come off the bench, made the initial charge to get France on the back foot and Te’o, the former South Sydney rugby league ace, sliced in for his second try in four Test appearances, Farrell improving.

England head to Wales next Saturday with plenty food for thought.

England: Brown; May, Joseph (Nowell 69), Farrell, Daly; Ford (Te’o 69), Youngs (Care 66); Marler (Mullan 66), Hartley (George 55), Cole, Launchbury (Haskell 64), Lawes, Itoje, Wood, Hughes.

France: Spedding; Nakaitaci, Lamerat (Huget 72), Fickou, Vakatawa; Lopez (Doussain 72), Serin (Machenaud 57); Baille (Slimani 46), Guirado (Maynadier 72), Atonio (Chiocci 46), Vahaamahina (Iturria 72), Maestri, Chouly (Goujon 64), Gourdon, Picamoles.

Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)

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