PARIS (AFP) – Maxime Machenaud steered France to a dour 22-16 victory over England on Saturday, a result that saw Ireland crowned Six Nations champions.
England went into the game knowing that only a bonus-point victory would prevent the Irish, with four wins from four after an earlier 28-8 triumph over Scotland, winning the championship.
But Eddie Jones’ team didn’t play like a side needing to score four tries to force a championship decider in a Twickenham head-to-head next week.
“While we’re all disappointed, we’re all gutted, we’ve got to make sure we learn from it and make sure we’re stronger next time we play,” Jones told the BBC.
“It’s a learning period for us. We’re struggling with our game a little bit and we’re learning from these games. It’s an important period for us.”
France captain Guilhem Guirado said the result was just rewards for their hard work and a sign of the team’s unity, having bounced back from two opening tournament defeats.
“I think 80,000 people came tonight, it’s a really emotional feeling because it’s always nice to beat England,” Guirado told French TV.
“France has gone through a tough time,” added head coach Jacques Brunel. “I believe we can come very close to the best.
“Against both Ireland (lost 15-13 in the last minute) and England, we’ve shown we can go up against them and we will continue to do so.”
There was a distinct lack of English penetration under a stifling French defence, the much-hyped George Ford-Owen Farrell axis was ineffectual and there were a myriad of mistakes in key areas.
A tight opening half was a nervy affair littered with infringements, be they by France at the scrum or England at the breakdown.
The French defence was solid, with giant centre Mathieu Bastareaud a real handful in the loose, and England’s blunt-looking attack was unable to stretch the home side wide.
Farrell opened the scoring with a 38-metre penalty after Rabah Slimani was pinged by South African referee Jaco Peyper for collapsing a scrum.
Peyper was, unfortunately, to have a busy afternoon with the whistle, with England three times penalised for holding on at the ruck in quick succession to set a bad precedent for the rest of the match.
France also lost their first three line-outs as both sides struggled for any kind of ascendancy.
Slimani was having a rough time at the scrum and when he was again penalised for collapsing, Elliot Daly kicked over a monster 52-metre penalty.
Machenaud eventually got France on the scoreboard with a 25th minute penalty, but Farrell responded almost immediately.
Maro Itoje’s high challenge on Benjamin Fall gifted Machenaud a second penalty, and the Racing 92 scrum-half made no mistake with his third after Chris Robshaw wandered badly offside to sum up an extremely frustrating first 40 minutes for both sides.
France received a massive boost early in the second period when Peyper awarded a penalty try after Anthony Watson was judged to have gone high on Fall – and denying the winger a try-scoring opportunity.
The French were suddenly on the front foot, Remy Grosso breaking down his left wing. The ball was quickly recycled, but Marco Tauleigne and Guirado couldn’t make the extra numbers count.
Machenaud booted his fourth penalty going into the final quarter, a raft of replacements boosting France’s momentum.
England winger Jonny May crossed for a consolation try after a lovely lay-off by Daly, Farrell converting, in a glimpse of what England had gone into the game needing to produce over the full 80 minutes.
France had the last word in a frantic final five minutes, however, replacement Lionel Beauxis kicking a penalty to ensure Irish eyes were smiling.