Under-20 Six Nations: France 6 England 22
- Credit: PA Archive/PA Images
Saracens’ Ben Earl captained England U20s to victory over previously unbeaten France in Beziers as they got their Six Nations campaign back on track.
Having suffered their first defeat of the 2018 tournament against Scotland in round three, after two bonus-point victories against Italy and Wales, England sealed victory over France in a gripping encounter.
They now head into the tournament finale against Ireland at the Ricoh Arena next weekend with their title hopes still alive.
England led 10-3 at the break through Cameron Redpath’s try, which Tom Hardwick converted, along with an earlier penalty after France had taken an initial lead through the boot of Romain Ntamack.
Hardwick and Ntamack traded penalties but a further score from England’s number 10 extended the lead to 16-6.
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In the final minutes, Hassane Kolingar and Pierre-Henry Azagoh were red carded for a dangerous tackle and two further Hardwick penalties sealed victory.
France, who had secured three bonus-point victories so far, started well and despite an early penalty miss for Ntamack, he made no mistake soon after from just inside the halfway line.
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England wasted a good opportunity to drive a maul to France’s line but lost possession and soon after Hardwick missed a chance to level the score.
France spent a concentrated period of time in England’s half but failed to extend their lead and, after going through a series of phases, the hosts were penalised and Hardwick sent over a penalty to level the scores.
Captain Earl broke through France midfield to set up an England score with Steve Bates’ side recycling out wide and Redpath was on hand to go over in the corner. Hardwick added the extras to give England a 10-3 lead at half time.
After the break, a great kick and chase resulted in France being penalised and Hardwick kicked the first points of the second half to give England a 13-3 lead.
A sustained period of pressure, in which France were camped on England’s line, eventually saw them penalised and, as a result, Earl was sin binned for collapsing the maul and the hosts kicked to the corner. However, France spilled the ball from the resulting lineout.
A further France penalty was again kicked to the corner but great England defence from the maul kept the home side out.
Ntamack reduced the score to 13-6 with a penalty on 66 minutes, as Earl returned to the field, but Hardwick restored the 10-point advantage before late red cards for France ended any hope of a comeback for the hosts. Two further penalties from the boot of Hardwick secured the victory.
Bates said: “It was a really big Test match, which had the feel of a big game and to come here to Beziers and win in France against France is a significant result.
“We still made some errors in the first 20 minutes and we know we can get better, but the side is developing all the time and that is crucial. The overall performance though was very good.
“We’ve got lots of our game in place, but we know we can add a bit more continuity and fluidity to the way we play. We end our tournament against Ireland and we know that is going to be a difficult game, but we haven’t seen the best of our exciting backline yet and we are going to give Ireland our best shot.
“It’s not just about that one game though, it’s important we look at the development of the side over the whole tournament and we have given a lot of players the opportunity to play and that will stand us in good stead in the future.”
England U20s: 15. James Grayson (Northampton Saints), 14. Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins), 13. Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), 12. Cameron Redpath (Sale Sharks), 11. Jordan Olowofela (Leicester Tigers), 10. Tom Hardwick (Leicester Tigers), 9. Ben White (Leicester Tigers), 1. Toby Trinder (Northampton Saints), 2. Henry Walker (Gloucester Rugby), 3. Marcus Street (Exeter Chiefs), 4. Dino Lamb (Harlequins), 5. Sam Lewis (Leicester Tigers), 6. Josh Basham (London Irish), 7. Ben Earl (capt) (Saracens), 8. Sam Moore (Sale Sharks). Replacements: 16: Gabriel Oghre (Wasps), 17: Alex Seville (Gloucester Rugby), 18: Ehren Painter (Northampton Saints), 19: James Scott (Worcester Warriors), 20: Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors), 21: Rory Brand (London Irish), 22: Will Butler (Worcester Warriors), 23: Tom Seabrook (Gloucester Rugby).