New captain Charles Ollivon scored a try in each half as France started the Fabien Galthie era with a clinical 24-17 Six Nations defeat of sloppy England at Stade de France.
There was an air of optimism in Paris after Galthie picked a youthful squad for his first tournament as head coach and Les Bleus made a dream start to a new dawn in the Paris rain on Sunday.
Vincent Rattez scored his first Test try and Ollivon claimed a contentious second in a first half France ended with a 17-0 lead, England left to rue a string of handling errors in tricky conditions.
Ollivon went over again after the break and Romain Ntamack took his tally from the tee to nine points to put France 24-0 up after Galthie’s men soaked up huge pressure with magnificent defence.
Jonny May set the nerves jangling with a brace of sublime solo tries and Owen Farrell booted seven points to earn a losing bonus point, but the Rugby World Cup runners-up – who lost Manu Tuilagi to injury early on – were made to pay for a lack of ruthlessness in the final third.
France were resolute and well drilled, showing the influence new defence coach Shaun Edwards already appears to have made, as they held on for a huge victory a year after letting a 16-0 half-time lead slip in their first game of the Six Nations against Wales.
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 2, 2020
Rattez – in for the injured Damian Penaud – raised the roof when he crossed just five minutes in after taking a clever inside pass from Ntamack, Teddy Thomas having cut England open with an initial incisive burst.
Ntamack added the extras and extended the lead with a penalty before Tuilagi’s early departure gave England another headache.
Handling errors cost England and they were punished for not playing on when they were convinced Ollivon had knocked on before he raced away to touch down, the TMO awarding the try.
England continued to rack up the errors as they applied huge pressure either side of half-time but were unable to break through as resolute France defended for their lives.
It was all England, but they were caught out again when Antoine Dupont scooted around the outside and whipped the ball inside for back-row Ollivon, who slid over for a double 15 minutes into the second half and Ntamack again added the extras.
Referee Nigel Owens warned both sides following a mass melee and England finally broke through when May showed a rapid turn of foot to get on the end of his own kick and dot down.
Wing May, who scored a hat-trick in a hammering of France last year, darted inside to go over for another brilliant score, but George Kruis was denied a third try when he charged through, so a Farrell penalty with the last kick of the game meant they would only head home with a solitary point.
Les Bleus make case for the defence
Eddie Jones warned France to expect “absolute brutality” from England and Les Bleus showed they were up for the battle.
They won 95 per cent of tackles made to England’s 86 and attempted 209 to 73 more than the Red Roses, with former Wales assistant and Englishman Edwards pumping his fists watching on.
England applied massive pressure, battering away at the French line but failing to get through a blue wall time and time again.
Tuilagi blow felt by wasteful England, baptism of fire for Furbank
Losing influential centre Tuilagi so early on was a big blow for England, already missing barnstorming number eight Billy Vunipola.
They dominated possession and territory but looked short of ideas before May’s magic. It proved to be a tough debut for full-back George Furbank, who struggled to grip a slick ball and was unable to stamp his mark on the game.
Key Opta Facts:
– France have won their last two home games against England in the Six Nations, the first time they have won consecutive tournament games against England in Paris since a three-game run between 2002 and 2006.
– England have lost their opening game of the Six Nations in just two of their last 12 campaigns, however both of their defeats in that spell have come against France in Paris (also 2014).
– England were kept scoreless in the first half of a Five/Six Nations game for the first time since 1988 (v Ireland) while their 17-0 deficit at half-time was the biggest margin they had trailed by at the break in the tournament since 2007 (3-23 v Ireland).
– Charles Ollivon became the first captain to score a brace of tries in a Six Nations match since Gareth Thomas crossed twice for Wales against Scotland in 2006; Ollivon now has three tries in his last two Tests for France.
France should make it two wins out of two against Italy in Paris next Sunday, while England head north of the border to face Scotland in the Calcutta Cup on Saturday.
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