England got back to winning ways in the Six Nations Championship by the finest of margins on Saturday as Maro Itoje’s late try helped them to a 23-20 victory over France at Twickenham. It was fair reward for a much-improved performance from Eddie Jones’ side, ending France’s Grand Slam hopes in the process.
While any chance of Six Nations success has long since passed England by, Jones will at least be buoyed by the battling display which saw his side come from behind twice to collect four competition points, with Itoje’s 77th-minute try being awarded after the intervention of the TMO.
A long evening appeared to be on the cards when Antoine Dupont went over inside the first 65 seconds after England’s right edge had been opened up with ease, with Matthieu Jalibert’s conversion giving France a speedy seven-point lead.
But from there the home side fought back, with Anthony Watson quickly bringing the scores level when finishing off in the right corner after England had created an overlap on the right. Owen Farrell’s conversion to that try plus two later penalties put Eddie Jones’ men 13-7 up midway through the first half, but as soon as France attacked again they looked likely to score.
Jalibert kicked a penalty to narrow the gap after three infringements in quick succession from England, and shortly after Les Bleus were ahead as Damian Penaud went over untouched in the corner after the home side’s left edge was drawn in.
Jalibert and Farrell traded penalties in the third quarter to maintain France’s four-point advantage at 20-16 but England were often their own worst enemies, turning the ball over far too regularly when they were getting up heads of steam. But as they threw caution to the wind in the final 10 minutes they began to ask more questions of the French defence.
And following a controlled attack down the right, Itoje wriggled his way over the line only to have seemingly been held up by Teddy Thomas, with on-field referee Andrew Brace referring the decision to TMO Joy Neville. And it was video evidence which showed that the tip of the ball had lightly touched the Twickenham grass as Itoje went over, with Neville awarding a try as a result.
The try ended France’s Grand Slam dream, but a victory against Wales at the Stade de France next Saturday would give them a chance of still lifting the Six Nations title. For England it was too little too late in their bid for back-to-back championships, but it will at least lift the pressure on coach Jones for the time being after their disappointing losses to Scotland and Wales had seen the Australian’s future come under intense scrutiny.