Owen Farrell penalty secures 22-19 victory in final at Twickenham
England beat France in extra-time to lift Autumn Nations Cup
Eddie Jones insisted during the build-up to this Autumn Nations Cup final that England would not underestimate France, that they knew how dangerous young French teams could be, that their preparation had been “first class”.
Yet England still seemed tentative for long periods and it took an Owen Farrell penalty in the 16th minute of extra-time to avoid bookending the year with defeats by the French.
Jones said to BBC Radio 5Live afterwards: “We want to be chasing pressure down the street and at the moment pressure is chasing us down the street.” His side may have shown resilience and resolve to eventually get the victory, but there are still question marks over their style and mindset.
England were expected to comfortably beat a team that had fewer caps combined than four of their players had as individuals, but they needed an 80th-minute try from Luke Cowan-Dickie, converted by Farrell, to even take the game into extra-time as this France team defied predictions to not only give the hosts a stern test as they matched their physicality but come within a minute of lifting the trophy themselves.
The 2,000 supporters who had been welcomed back into Twickenham may not have been enthralled by a match that saw 36% of possession kicked and only two line breaks – there were periods when it was as silent as a game behind closed doors – but they did get an additional 16 minutes of action and the drama of a ‘golden point’ period.
England had a chance to win the game in the second minute of extra-time but Farrell hit the post with that penalty – one of four he missed over the course of the Test.
He put the ball through the posts when given another opportunity – Maro Itoje winning the crucial penalty at the breakdown – and then lifted the Autumn Nations Cup just a few weeks after holding aloft the Six Nations trophy.
Arguably the most imagination seen by any Englishmen at Twickenham was the groundsmen wearing Santa hats when they took the field at half-time. And at that point it looked like the French, with Cameron Woki particularly impressive, might pull off a big upset.
They went in at the break leading 13-6 having repelled England for double-figure phases on the line. It was that period that highlighted a dearth of creativity from the hosts as they tried – and ultimately failed – to pummel their way over when there was space out wide.
A French error in kicking the ball out after it had been carried back into their 22 had handed England a lineout seven metres from the line. Itoje won the ball and immediately fed Tom Curry, who surged towards the line. A quick recycle and Henry Slade then cut a powerful line to get within a couple of metres of the line.
Then it was wave after wave of pick-and-goes from England but they simply couldn’t find a crack in the blue wall built by Shaun Edwards.
It came out to the backs once and George Ford had to cut back inside as Gabin Villiere read the move well; the fly-half was held up on the line, so then came more close-range surges from the forwards until Ellis Genge lost the ball under the posts.
England were then a little too eager to pressurise a French scrum five metres from their line and conceded a free-kick that allowed France to go into the changing rooms ahead.
The difference in the scoreline was a Brice Dulin try created by Matthieu Jalibert, who dummied inside Owen Farrell and beat a Jamie George tackle to then throw a long pass to his full-back.
England dominated possession and territory in the second period, opting to run a little more often, but they were not able to break down a highly motivated French defence until that Cowan-Dckie try from a driving maul in the final minute.
The extra-time element added a dose of drama to the end of a match that had failed to ignite into a spectacle – and at least England got to lift this trophy in front of fans.
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