England and Maro Itoje stay in control against France to show what they are capable of

WHEN asked what it was like to score the match-winning try, and as late as the 76th minute, in such a high quality Test match, Maro Itoje smiled a little sheepishly.

England's Anthony Watson scores the hosts' first try against France at Twickenham. Picture: David Davies/PA

The imposing England lock is many things, not least one of the world’s greatest forwards, but he is not someone who can unnecessarily embellish.

As crucial as his intervention was with the hosts trailing 20-16 and staring at an unthinkable third defeat of this Six Nations tournament, Itoje knew it was not something to behold aesthetically which, in many ways, is a shame as there had been plenty of exhilarating play from both sides previously.

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“If I’m going to be honest, it wasn’t the most exciting try – it was a pick and go,” recalled the British Lion after he bundled over from close range in the dying embers of Saturday’s epic game at Twickenham.

“Yes, I’m very happy the team scored that try in the last few minutes but I doubt it will end up on any highlight reel.

“Nonetheless, a try’s a try; they all cost the same.”

In fairness, this one was priceless; another loss after the Scotland debacle and disappointment of Cardiff would have left Eddie Jones’s side in an awful rut heading to Dublin on Saturday.

However, having eked out a win having trailed since the 32nd minute, and played with such freedom, adventure and style, particularly at times in the first half, England delivered something close to what they have been talking about for so long.

MAGIC MOMENT: Maro Itoje scores England's winning try despite being held by Cameron Woki at Twickenham. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

France, with the brilliant half-back duo of Antonie Dupont and Matthieu Jalibert, played their part richly and will deem themselves distinctly unlucky not to be remaining on course for a Grand Slam.

However, by the end, much of the talk was about England again who, with openside Tom Curry in such masterful form and winger Anthony Watson enjoying a splendid 50th appearance, finally assuaged growing discontent amongst their faithful.

Itoje was outstanding, too, as the 26 year-old silenced much of the criticism that had come his way following his ill-disciplined showing in Cardiff where he conceded five penalties alone to contribute to that defeat.

Here, there was more control as there was, too, from Owen Farrell, the captain who had agreed with Jones beforehand to completely stay out of the way of referee Andrew Brace.

England's Maro Itoje (left) and Anthony Watson celebrate at the final whistle at Twickenham. Picture: David Davies/PA

Unlike in Cardiff, England would let the officials rule without complaint and Itoje – whose game is played constantly on the edge – ensured he gave them nothing to pick over.

The Saracen admitted he has had to re-evaluate his game.

He explained: “Obviously there’s been a bit of perception that has come about my game and how I play. I’m just working hard to change that perception.

“If I’m frank, in the last game I gave away five penalties. If you do that, referees, outside noise is going to say ‘Maro Itoje gives away a lot of penalties’. Obviously I don’t want that.

England's Maro Itoje (right) and Jamie George celebrate at the final whistle at Twickenham. Picture: David Davies/PA

“Everything has an influence; things that people say and think all affect how referees prepare for a game. At the moment that’s the perception so I have to do some work in changing that. I don’t want to lose any of the good stuff that I do and that I bring as I know how I can influence a game.

“I want to still be as confrontational as I can; I don’t want to lose my bite. These are things that make me a good player. If I lose those you might as well play somebody else.

“It’s just about not trying to do it all and trust the system to deal with it. I need to choose my moments. This is only one game but I’ll have to do that on a consistent level to change the perception.”

Similarly, England will have to play like this more consistently to change the perception that they are stalling under Jones but this display was so encouraging.

Granted, they went behind after just 67 seconds when winger Teddy Thomas found space to chip ahead for Dupont but Watson soon replied as England demonstrated their own elan.

Farrell converted and slotted two penalties before shaken France gathered themselves and began showing more brio.

Jalibert kicked a penalty and converted from wide out after brilliantly creating Damian Penaud’s try for a 17-13 interval lead.

He and Farrell exchanged penalties in the second half and it looked like France had done enough for a first win at Twickenham since 2005. But the relentless Itoje had other ideas.

England: Malins (Daly 63); Watson, Slade (Lawrence 72), Farrell, May; Ford, Youngs (Robson 75); M Vunipola (Genge 63), Cowan-Dickie (George 72), Sinckler (Stuart 72), Itoje, Ewels (Hill 79), Wilson (Earl 63), Curry, B Vunipola.

France: Dulin; Thomas, Vakatawa, Fickou, Penaud; Jalibert, Dupont; Baille (Gros 68), Marchand (Chat 72), Haouas (Aldegheri 59), Taofifenua (Cazeaux 59) , Willemse, Cretin (Woki 72), Ollivon, Alldritt. Not used: Jelonch, Serin, Ntamack.

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU).

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