A late try from Sebastien Chabal gave France a 21-15 victory against England at Twickenham.
The replacement loose forward, whose place in France’s World Cup squad was in doubt right up until its announcement, helped spark the Six Nations champions when England’s so-called “B team” seemed set to claim a massive psychological boost ahead of the World Cup. With France trailing 15-14 with five minutes to go, Chabal burst past fullback Nick Abendanon and then shrugged off winger Josh Lewsey to steal the win.
The World Cup holders, showing 11 changes from the side that smashed Wales 62-5, were expected to struggle against the best XV France could field (although star centre Yannick Jauzion withdrew just before kick-off and both regular props are injured). However, with eight places still up for grabs in Brian Ashton’s 30-man World Cup squad, the home players raised their game and more than matched Europe’s best.
Ollie Barkley put England on the board with an early penalty, but it was France who scored the first try when a well-timed, floated pass from David Skrela saw Fabien Pelous go over in the corner. It was a fitting return for the second rower, who played his 111th Test to equal the French record of Philippe Sella.
Skrela slotted a penalty, but two penalties from Barkley gave England a one-point lead after half an hour. Further penalties from the flyhalves made it 12-11 at the break.
Neither side gave an inch in the third quarter, with a drop goal from replacement Andy Gomarsall breaking the mini-deadlock. But Jean-Baptiste Elissalde kicked a penalty soon after taking the field to keep France within striking distance.
The Poms should have scored with 13 minutes remaining when Chabal went for the intercept and helped create the overlap out wide. The ball passed through three sets of English hands before replacement hooker Dimitri Szarzewski pulled off a try-saving tackle on Phil Vickery.
A minute later, France worked their way back into England’s 22 and Chabal went over to silence the Twickenham crowd.
England –Penalties: Ollie Barkley (4). Drop goal: Andy Gomarsall.
France – Tries: Fabien Pelous, Sebastien Chabal. Conversion: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde. Penalties: David Skrela, Ellissalde.
By Simon Borchardt