Six Nations 2021: England 23-20 France

By Sports Desk March 13, 2021

Maro Itoje's late try ended France's Six Nations Grand Slam hopes as England secured a hard-fought 23-20 victory at Twickenham.

Fabien Galthie's men still have two games to play in this year's competition after a coronavirus outbreak led to their match with Scotland being postponed.

But next weekend they will host a Wales side seeking to wrap up the Grand Slam – a feat now out of reach for Les Bleus, who have not managed it since 2010, after a painful loss in London.

England, beaten by Scotland and Wales either side of a routine win over Italy, have been reduced to also-rans but refused to play that part on Saturday.

Despite taking the lead through Antoine Dupont's try after just 80 seconds, France were pegged back as Anthony Watson responded in kind and the reliable Owen Farrell added eight first-half points with the boot.

However, Damian Penaud applied the finish to a stunning France try before half-time, with Matthieu Jalibert and Owen Farrell exchanging penalties before Itoje stole the headlines at the death.

With nine wins from 10 previous home meetings with France in the Six Nations, including seven in a row, the history books heavily favoured England, but it did not look that way early on.

The visitors surged into the lead as the ever-alert Dupont touched down at the end of a sweeping move that had left England all at sea.

Eddie Jones' team immediately applied the pressure and got back on level terms as some swift and precise passing found Watson wide on the right, and he marked his 50th cap with a score from which Farrell converted.

Farrell kept his cool to slot two penalties and put England 13-7 up inside 20 minutes, but France cut the arrears with a Jalibert three-pointer before reclaiming the lead ahead of the break.

It was a fine try that secured that half-time advantage, Penaud collecting a brilliant pass from Jalibert following an eye-catching Gael Fickou dummy to squeeze through in the corner after Galthie's men had sprung superbly from a lineout.

The second half was more of a tactical battle, with far fewer instances of flair and creativity; Jalibert and Farrell each splitting the posts before England had the decisive say in the closing minutes.

Itoje bundled over the line, the try awarded after a review as it was determined he had grounded the ball, breaking French hearts in the process.

What's next?

France may be unwanted guests at someone else's Grand Slam party when they host Wales on Saturday, while England face a stern test as they travel to Dublin to take on Ireland.

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    Fabien Galthie provided an encouraging update on Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack after France's key duo tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Six Nations.

    Les Bleus' preparation for the tournament has been hard hit by a host of contracting coronavirus.  

    Bernard Le Roux had to make 11 changes to his 42-man squad, with World Rugby Player of the Year Dupont, fly-half Ntamack and Bernard Le Roux among those who were unable to report for international duty.

    Galthie on Wednesday revealed the absentees due to COVID-19 are recovering well ahead of his side's opening game of the tournament against Italy at Stade de France a week on Sunday.

    The France head coach said: "We keep in touch with all the players from afar, of course.

    "We have good news concerning the players and their state of health and spirit and all are doing well."

    Mercurial scrum-half Dupont has not played since December 11 due to a knee injury and coronavirus.

    Galthie says the playmaker could return for Toulouse in their Top 14 encounter with Racing 92 on Saturday.

    "I have spoken to him: he is doing well. He resumed training two weeks ago," said Galthie 

    "He wanted to play against Cardiff but the match did not go ahead. Then of course he tested positive for COVID. But he is fine, and is still training. Today he had a test at his club and depending on the results he will play or not for Toulouse this weekend.

    "That is up to his head coach Ugo Mola and I have confidence in him he will take the right decision both for his team and for Antoine."

    It is 12 years since France won the Six Nations, but they are favourites to end that title drought this time around and that is music to Galthie's ears. 

    "I am very happy with this compliment, we’re very happy and proud to be labelled as favourites," he said.

    "We are very happy to hear all those positive comments. It's very rewarding, it's rewarding for our two-year work, it's rewarding for all the commitment of the players, the virtues of the team and their dedication on the pitch."

  • 'Never say never' – Pivac not completely ruling out Jones Six Nations return 'Never say never' – Pivac not completely ruling out Jones Six Nations return

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    Jones was not included in the defending champions' squad last week as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

    Dan Biggar was named captain for the tournament in the absence of the inspirational lock, who did the damage in a 54-16 thrashing against New Zealand in October.

    Jones incredibly recovered from a dislocated shoulder to skipper the British and Irish Lions in South Africa last year.

    Wales head coach Pivac says Jones is unlikely to play in the Six Nations, but there is a chance the 36-year-old could feature.

    "Never say never," Pivac said, adding: "It's Alun Wyn Jones. I probably wouldn't enter the conversation if it was anyone else, but the guy has broken so many records.

    "I honestly say that, I would never say never. But look, it'll be a long shot. Let's just say that.

    "Al is working incredibly hard behind the scenes, as you know he would, to get himself in the best shape possible for either the Ospreys or Wales."

    Stand-in captain Biggar echoed Pivac's sentiments as the holders prepare for their opening match against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5.

    "I wouldn't put my mortgage on it," the fly-half said.

    "I don't think any of us expected [Jones] to turn up in South Africa in the summer, and he managed to get on the plane.

    "If there is anybody who has got a chance of being fit for some part of this tournament, then Al is probably the man. I wouldn't rule it out just yet."

  • England captain Owen Farrell to miss Six Nations with new ankle injury England captain Owen Farrell to miss Six Nations with new ankle injury

    England captain Owen Farrell will miss the 2022 Six Nations after suffering a new ankle injury, head coach Eddie Jones confirmed.

    The 30-year-old required surgery after damaging his right ankle during training with club side Saracens, who confirmed on Wednesday he will be sidelined for eight to 10 weeks.

    Farrell has not played since another ankle injury sustained during the November Test victory over Australia at Twickenham.

    The news is a significant blow to Jones' plans, with Farrell having been earmarked to play at number 12 and act as a guide for inexperienced fly-half Marcus Smith.

    "Owen has had his operation, so he'll be out of the Six Nations," Jones said.

    "[It is a] massive blow for him personally, but it's a chance for people to step up. It's an opportunity for other people to fill those leadership roles and an opportunity for other players to play for that number 12 jumper.

    "In today's rugby, it's rare that you have all your best players on the field. We're used to it.

    "Last night we had to leave the hotel because of a fire outside, so the boys are adaptable. They know how to get along with things and there's an opportunity there to build a little more leadership depth."

    George Ford had already been recalled to the squad following injuries to Farrell and Jonny May, who has a knee problem.

    England's preparations for the clash in Glasgow were further disrupted by a positive COVID-19 test for Joe Marler, while Courtney Lawes – among the favourites to deputise for Farrell as captain – has been sitting out training because of head injury protocols.

    The team were also evacuated from their hotel in Brighton after a suspected electrical fire nearby.

    England begin their campaign against Scotland at Murrayfield on February 5 before facing Italy in Rome a week later.

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