Fabulous France down England in all-time classic

Fabulous France down England in all-time classic

Thomas Ramos kicked a last-minute match-winning penalty and Nolann Le Garrec scored one of the great Guinness Men's Six Nations tries as France saved their best until last to beat England in an all-time classic.

England led 31-30 with just two minutes to go but France won a penalty on the half-way line which Ramos sent sailing through the posts to clinch victory.

That came at the end of a breathless game that was lit up by Le Garrec's first-half try. The scrum-half brought the house down at Lyon's Groupama Stadium when he started and finished a one-phase coast-to-coast move that ripped England apart.

It summed up a frantic, enthralling and at times error-strewn final match of the 2024 Championship, where the lead changed hands six times and both teams overturned two-score deficits.

France appeared to be running away with it when Le Garrec helped open a 16-3 lead, as they outthought and outmuscled England.

However, Ollie Lawrence crossed for two tries - one either side of half-time - and Marcus Smith added another as England spectacularly scored 21 unanswered points in just seven minutes of play.

France were eight points down but responded emphatically, as Leo Barre and Gael Fickou scored within four minutes of each other but England looked set for victory when Tommy Freeman went in at the corner and George Ford landed a sensational conversion.

But Ramos ensured France finish the Championship in second place with his fourth penalty of the night.


Ireland might have been crowned champions in Dublin but the party was without doubt in Lyon, with the city revelling in its first Guinness Men’s Six Nations match.

With the countdown to kick-off more akin to that seen at a New Year’s Eve party, France started like a team focusing on the future and not dwelling on a disappointing Championship that saw them fail to win their first two home games.

Their maul was especially impressive initially, with Emmanuel Meafou turning England over inside the 22, while another shoved their opponents back at least 10 metres as they made a physically imposing start.

Barely five minutes in and England scrum-half Alex Mitchell was nursing a left wrist injury, and full-back George Furbank limped off with what appeared to be a serious calf injury – replaced by Smith.

Despite that, England drew first blood with Ford kicking a penalty won at the scrum, but it was quickly cancelled out by Ramos, who nailed one from the half-way line after Smith was wrapped up.

England did well to stem the tide but a France try felt inevitable, and when it came it was a thing of beauty.

Inside his own half, Le Garrec saw space to his left and France ran right through England, with first Gael Fickou and then Leo Barre making a break. Barre could have released Louis Bielle-Biarrey on half-way but instead trusted his pace, ran inside the 22 and then flicked a pass inside to Le Garrec to score one of the tries of the Championship.

In a cauldron of noise, England’s backs were against the wall and, although they tried to hit back, they made too many handling errors and invited pressure onto them.

A botched lineout inside the 22 ended with a France counter-attack, as Damian Penaud kicked the ball behind England’s retreating defence for the rapid Bielle-Biarrey to chase, but Smith just about beat him to it to ground it behind the try line.

Ramos kicked his second penalty off the back of a Charles Ollivon break, while minutes later Penaud soon had the crowd swooning as he beat six tacklers while drifting horizontally across the pitch. His run led to another breakdown penalty and Ramos cashed in from half-way again to make it 16-3.

England missed 25 tackles in a sloppy first half but responded on the brink of half-time. Henry Slade slipped a clever grubber kick through to the corner, and he and fellow chaser Smith helped to bundle Penaud into touch for a five-metre lineout.

After a spell of pressure, England punched through with Lawrence picking the right line and ghosting under the posts untouched. Ford’s conversion made it 16-10 at the break.


That – and the harsh words Steve Borthwick likely had for his team at half-time – sparked England into life. They made a sensational start to the second half, with Tommy Freeman making ground before Smith released Sam Underhill with a fine pass.

Ben Earl almost finished the move two phases later as they picked holes in France’s defence, before Lawrence muscled over shortly after from a metre out.

England have trailed in all of their Championship matches this year – the first time they have done so since 1974 – and their preference for the second half was clear as they ran through France again.

Freeman should have set a try up Mitchell for an easy run-in only to overthrow the offload, but just 30 seconds later they were in again. Underhill released Earl through a gap in midfield and the No.8 waited for the supporting Smith, who cut back inside one tackle and sprinted in to score.

From 16-3 down, England were 24-16 up within seven minutes of half-time – prompting France captain Gregory Alldritt to call his players together for a huddle while Ford converted.

Now it was France in need of a response and it initially appeared they might get one when they had a lineout inside the England 22 and worked it up to the five-metre line, but a penalty for hands on the floor allowed England to escape.

Their relief, however, was short-lived. Les Bleus returned to their fluent best inside the 22 as Charles Ollivon found space and then found Barre, who walked in for a try. Ramos’ conversion cut the gap to just a point.

With that, the momentum of the match changed and it did not take long for France to strike again. This time, it was all of England’s own making as replacement hooker Theo Dan overthrew a lineout and it bounced into French hands.

Ramos picked it up and chipped in behind England’s defence, which caused a turning Marcus Smith to slip. That allowed the chasing Penaud to gather the ball and he did brilliantly under pressure to offload to Fickou, who strolled in to give France the lead.

After a mad 15 minutes, the game settled back into a set pattern, with France on top and seemingly on their way to victory. However, England delivered another twist in the tale when Ford helped generate an overlap down the right and Smith slipped in Freeman to score.

Ford, who missed three kicks at goal against Ireland last week, was faced with a treacherous conversion from the right touchline but he dissected the posts to edge England one point ahead.

But France had the last laugh when they won a penalty on the half-way line in the 78th-minute, and Ramos nailed the kick to seal the win.

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