|England (13) 23|
|Tries: Watson, Itoje Cons: Farrell2 Pens: Farrell 3|
|France (17) 20|
|Tries: Dupont, Penaud Cons: Jalibert 2 Pens: Jalibert 2|
England overhauled a stubborn, skilful France to snatch victory in a see-sawing Six Nations match at Twickenham.
Eddie Jones’ side trailed 17-13 at the break after dazzling scores from Antoine Dupont and Damian Penaud had put France in front.
The hosts’ pressure told in a cagey second half as Maro Itoje barged over for a 77th-minute score.
Even then France threatened to land a decisive counter-punch but Brice Dulin’s break was snuffed out.
Wales’ win over Italy earlier in the day means England’s victory is too late to salvage a Six Nations title defence.
But victory went someway to re-establishing England’s credentials as the northern hemisphere’s superpower, in world rankings at least.
The 2019 World Cup runners-up had slipped to fourth, below France, after defeats by Scotland and Wales in their opening three games of this year’s campaign.
Today’s victory takes them back above their opponents to third.
But, with Wales and Scotland upwardly mobile and France a few minutes away from a first win at Twickenham since 2005, any claims to being Europe’s number one side are far from conclusive.
France, who play unbeaten Wales in Paris next weekend, can still win the title for the first time since 2010.
Transition or tradition for poker-face Jones?
The question for Eddie Jones now is whether to stick or twist again.
The Australian has admitted that his side are in a period of transition, suggesting only around 70% of the current squad will feature at the next World Cup in 2023.
He brought the free-running full-back Max Malins and hard-carrying hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie into the starting line-up and his side seemed revived as they slugged it out with France in an enthralling first half.
Anthony Watson’s try, created by Henry Slade’s darting break and George Ford mis-pass on the wing’s 50th England appearance, was the least he and his side deserved.
The second half featured more perspiration than inspiration from England. Owen Farrell’s boot kept them within range before Itoje burrowed over to break France’s resolve.
With the final-weekend trip to Dublin a dead rubber in title terms, will Jones opt for further surgery to his side or restore usual mainstays Elliot Daly and Jamie George who contributed to a strong final quarter?
It may be that this summer’s tour of North America, while the Lions take on South Africa, will instead be the chance he takes to test some of his fringe squad members.
More to follow.