England escaped to victory in the Autumn Nations Cup Final as they survived an almighty scare against France’s shadow line-up to claim a second title and trophy of the year.
Eddie Jones’s national team appeared to be in grave danger of suffering another final indignity, after being thumped by South Africa in last year’s showpiece World Cup decider.
Despite being close to full strength against rivals missing at least 30 leading players due to a club v country agreement over autumn game-time, England trailed from the 15th minute through to the 80th.
England were made to work hard in a dramatic Autumn Nations Cup final but walked away with the trophy after sudden-death
Owen Farrell had a mixed night but scored a crucial conversion to take it into extra-time before later hitting the winner
With seconds of normal time remaining, the hosts were trailing 19-12, only for one last raid to yield a try by replacement hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie, who twisted over following a strong lineout drive.
Owen Farrell’s conversion tied the scores and meant the game went into extra-time – 10 minutes each way – with the team who scored next claiming the prize.
The England captain had already missed three penalty kicks and three minutes into extra-time, he succumbed to another uncharacteristic lapse – as his latest shot hit a post and deflected wide. But after a cagey period as both sides strove for the decisive score, there was redemption for Farrell, as his next kick found the target, to spark jubilation in the home ranks.
It was a spirited performance by France who were given little chance before the game started but gave the hosts a good fight
England started off the match brightly but France took the lead after a brilliant pass found Brice Dulin to score a try
The fortuitous victory ensured that England won this tournament, to add to the Six Nations title they secured in late October.
But when the dust settles, Jones will know there is work to do as there was no sign of the greater attacking conviction which England were striving for, or even the authority and control of other recent matches.
In fact, a highly experienced home team were eclipsed for long periods by a callow French line-up, inspired by the artistry of their sorcerer fly-half, Matthieu Jalibert. On this evidence, Fabien Galthie’s Gallic revival mission is firmly on track.
There were 2,000 spectators present at Twickenham to provide the novelty of an atmosphere and a section of them chose to show their support seconds after kick-off by launching into a rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot. This was at odds with the stance adopted by the RFU, who have been attempting to distance themselves from the long-time anthem of England rugby, due to its links with the slave trade.
In the eight minute, the hosts went ahead after earning a penalty from at attacking scrum. Captain Owen Farrell landed his first shot at goal, the pack had made an early statement and the stage was set for a dominant English performance.
Instead, the script was swiftly abandoned. France were penalised at a 12th-minute lineout to give Farrell another kick at the posts and he was off target. Then, three minutes later, the visitors came alive with a sensational try.
Matthieu Jalibert impressed in the first-half for France scoring two penalties and a conversion before he later came off injured
England struggled to break through a resilient French defence in the first-half with George Ford held up just before the line
A French lineout on their right flank in England’s half was thrown too long by hooker Pierre Bourgarit, but Tom Curry knocked the ball on, to gift possession back to Galthie’s side. They used it to deadly effect. Jalibert darted through a gap on the home 22, handed-off Jamie George and then unleashed a glorious pass as he was tackled, to send Brice Dulin clear to touch down.
Jalibert added the conversion and continued to run the show with aplomb for the underdogs. Elliot Daly’s long-range penalty briefly cut the deficit to a point before France’s No 10 landed two shots of his own from closer range to re-establish Gallic control.
Just before the break there was a remarkable demonstration of French resistance, which highlighted the impact made by their English defence coach, Shaun Edwards. The hosts battered their opponents’ line with a 13-phase driving onslaught but France held firm and protected their lead.
France visibly started to get tired in the second-half and didn’t have the same energy to stop Luke Cowan-Dickie getting a try
Eight minutes into the second half, another Farrell penalty left England just four points adrift, but the skipper’s next goal-kick was wayward.
However, England were starting to impose themselves with more purpose, as Billy Vunipola put in a thunderous tackle on Yoram Falatea Moefana and moments later, Jonny Hill and Ben Earl combined to win another penalty deep in French territory. England went for an attacking lineout, only for Cameron Woki to produce another timely aerial steal.
France were firmly under cosh but Jones’s men could not capitalise on their control of possession and territory, not least because, more often than not, they continued to aimlessly kick the ball away.
Farrell’s conversion took the game into extra-time but he hit the post initially in sudden-death giving France a chance to win
But he got a second chance to score a penalty in sudden death and made no mistake to score the crucial points for England
Eddie Jones’s side avoided further final indignity after they previously lost in the final of the World Cup to South Africa in 2019
Ironically, it was another kicking lapse which further delayed the prospect of an English fightback, as Farrell’s third miss of the game just before the hour came from the friendliest of angles, almost in front of the posts.
England kept toiling away, in desperate search of a breakthrough, against a backdrop of sporadic boos from some of the spectators when the home team stuck to their tactical kicking approach. When the ball did come down to earth, they were undone by some inspired French poaching at a series of rucks.
In the closing stages, France appeared to put themselves in an unassailable position, as Louis Carbonel kicked penalties in the 70th and 76th minutes, either side of one by Farrell at the other end. But England managed to level the scores in dramatic fashion in the last minute, to set up the dramatic, sudden-death climax.
Sportsmail’s Kieran Lynch provided a live recap as the events unfolded.