|England: (7) 22|
|Try: Cowan-Dickie Con: Farrell Pens: Farrell 4, Daly|
|France: (13) 19|
|Try: Dulin Con: Jalibert Pens: Jalibert 2, Carbonel 2|
Owen Farrell finally found his kicking boots to land a sudden-death penalty and subdue a stand-in France to win the Autumn Nations Cup at Twickenham.
Pre-match favourites England needed a last-minute try from Luke-Cowan Dickie to take the contest to sudden death.
In a helter-skelter extra-time period, Farrell missed a straightforward penalty shot to win the game.
But the captain stepped up once more to nail a kick from a tricky angle to clinch the title.
England’s players raced over to mob their skipper as the ball split the posts to finally put an extraordinary, see-sawing contest to rest.
The bookmakers had predicted a 17-point winning margin before kick-off. Alex Corbisiero and Abbie Brown, England players past and present, forecast even more emphatic victories when interviewed by the stadium announcer before the start.
Instead the 2,000 fans were – eventually – treated to a cliff-hanger of high drama quite out of keeping with the rest of the Autumn Nations Cup.
It nearly veered wildly off script to deliver a win for a France side deprived off more than 20 first-choice stars by an availability agreement with their top clubs.
Louis Carbonel, the young fly-half who steered France’s junior side to an Under-20 World Championship final victory over England in 2018, saw a kick creep over to leave the hosts needing a converted try to force extra-time with four minutes to go.
It was a task that England met. Just. Cowan-Dickie burrowed over from the back of a rolling maul in the final play of the game to set up a shoot-out.
With fatigue biting and minds scrambled by the new format, the game finally opened up as both sides searched for the knockout punch, before England and Farrell finally prevailed.
France’s energy lights up Twickenham
From the first moments of the match, France showed the raw enthusiasm and energy they had to offer the contest. Cameron Woki chased up the opening kick-off and dragged catcher Anthony Watson into touch.
And England never fully recovered control. France, full of running and adventure, refused to play the role of runners-up in waiting that many had given them before kick-off.
Farrell took the first points of the day as England’s scrum forced a penalty but France’s enterprise was rewarded when 22-year-old fly-half Matthieu Jalibert dummied and darted between Farrell and Jamie George before feeding Brice Dulin for a fine score.
England were dominant in the set-piece, but they struggled to pin down the visitors as they revelled in the chaos and space caused by their high-tempo game.
As the half came to a close England seemed to have France where they wanted them.
Tom Curry’s rumble camped them five metres out. But a superb defensive set from a France side now drilled by former Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards repelled the hosts and quietened the 2,000 home fans, as they protected their seven-point advantage through to the break.
England’s errors continued to allow a callow France side, containing just 68 caps to the hosts’ 772, to wriggle out of tricky field positions in the second half.
Farrell duffed a kick off the tee, Daly clumped another out on the full, a line-out five out from the French line was stolen by the visitors.
And when Farrell missed another shot at goal from nearly straight in front, belief flowed on the French bench.
Every decision was cheered by the visiting coaches, every tackler slapped on the back by his team-mate. England stuck resolutely to their kick-based game, whether through tactical discipline or a lack of ideas.
It seemed like the match might have gone.
But, when it really mattered, England dug deep into their deeper wells of experience to finally reel in a final many had expected to be a formality.
Man of the match – Cameron Woki
England: Daly, Watson, Slade, Farrell, May, Ford, Youngs, Genge, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Launchbury, Curry, Underhill, B. Vunipola. Replacements: Malins for Watson (69), Robson for Youngs (69), Marler for Genge (58), Cowan-Dickie for George (65), Stuart for Sinckler (65), J. Hill for Launchbury (43), Earl for Underhill (43). Not Used: Marchant.
France: Dulin, Raka, Moefana, Danty, Villiere, Jalibert, Couilloud, Kolingar, Bourgarit, Aldegheri, Geraci, Pesenti, Woki, Jelonch, Tolofua. Replacements: Barassi for Danty (47), Carbonel for Jalibert (61), Bezy for Couilloud (80), Neti for Kolingar (52), Mauvaka for Bourgarit (52), Ducat for Pesenti (55), Macalou for Woki (55).