Ramos’ late penalty gives France win against England in seven-try thriller

Ramos’ late penalty gives France win against England in seven-try thriller

They saved the most spectacular game of this season’s Six Nations until last. When the final whistle sounded on a quite extraordinarily vivid spectacle in Lyon it left France in second place in the table with England below them in third but, in truth, that felt like a trivial detail. The abiding memory will be the quality of the entertainment served up by two sides who utterly refused to bend the knee.

Set aside the fact, for a moment, that this year’s Six Nations trophy has been claimed by Ireland. Because it is also true that the most sparkling memories in the final two rounds involved an English side who, in the process, have gone a long way towards restoring their supporters’ faith. Another stunning comeback, this time from 16-3 down after 39 minutes, could not quite yield a fourth win from five games but this was further evidence to suggest England’s progress is real enough.

Until the very closing moments it seemed that Tommy Freeman’s 75th-minute try and George Ford’s touchline conversion had won the day, only for Thomas Ramos to steal it away with a last-gasp 50m penalty after Ben Earl had been pinged for a no-arms tackle. Before that, after the second of Ollie Lawrence’s two compelling tries and a jinking score from Marcus Smith, it had looked as if Steve Borthwick’s side might be on the verge of something extra special.

Instead it was France who ended an uneven campaign on a high, inspired by a 59th-minute try from Gaël Fickou and another eye-catching display from scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec who finished off a first-half team try for the ages. The deadly boot of Ramos contributed 18 points and he never remotely looked like missing the long-range winner.

Talk about a ‘Le Crunch’ with a real snap and crackle to it. England will point to the disruption caused by the early loss of George Furbank with a calf problem but France were almost unrecognisable from the side who plodded through the early rounds.

This was also the first time France have won four successive home championship games against England since 1972, one of several interesting stats floating around in the aftermath. It was also England’s seventh final day defeat in their past eight campaigns but at least they restored some much-needed pride after a record 53-10 beating at Twickenham this time last year.

England’s Marcus Smith scores a try during the back-and-forth battle in France. Photograph: Laurent Cipriani/AP

Earl, who had another stormingly energetic game, made 17 tackles in the second half alone while Lawrence, Ford and Ollie Chessum made similarly mighty contributions. The rat-a-tat flurry of 21 English points in eight minutes either side of half time would have swung most games but there could be no avoiding the lineout malfunction that led directly to Fickou’s all-important score.

Then again, it would be unfair to poke too negatively over the entrails of a glorious encounter on a still, mild evening. From beginning to end it was hypnotic viewing, with France starting like a speeding TGV. Fickou passed the ball backwards through his legs to open up a surge down the left touchline and England also had to repel a couple of thunderous charges from the huge home forwards. A touch more French precision was all that was lacking and when a visibly dismayed Furbank was forced off within the eight minutes it intensified the pressure on England. It was a considerable relief, therefore, when Ford, using every second available to him, slotted a well-struck penalty following a collapsed scrum.

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A helter skelter game continued to ebb and flow, as Le Crunch tends to do. England last beat Les Bleus on French soil in 2016 and, remarkably, there were seven Red Rose survivors from that contest on the teamsheet. It was youthful French exuberance, though, which conjured the game’s first try, an absolute stunner of a team score from 75m out started and finished by the gifted Le Garrec with the young full-back Leo Barré providing a casually brilliant left-handed final offload.

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France could not quite take advantage of all the chances they were creating but England were increasingly hanging on. Another surging line-break, this time from Charles Ollivon, could easily have yielded a second try but three points from Ramos still eased his side into a 10-point lead. The big hope for the visitors was that their opponents might not be able to sustain the savage pace.

Another deadly 50m penalty from Ramos made it 16-3, only for England to resurrect their evening just before the interval courtesy of Lawrence who burst through Fickou’s tackle to score next to the posts to give Ford a simple conversion. It meant England have trailed at half-time in every match in this championship, the first time that has happened since the early 1970s.

The first-half stats also revealed England had missed 25 tackles and France had conceded just three penalties. A game of rugby, though, is played over 80 minutes. Sure enough, it was England who struck with a rattlesnake’s swiftness after the restart, not once but twice. First Lawrence stretched out to score his second before another surging break, this time from Earl, gave Smith the chance to finish in style.

Suddenly it was 24-16 to England and French legs seemed to have gone. Would they recover? Could they recover? The answer, thrillingly, was yes, assisted by a loose lineout throw, booted forwards by Ramos, which helped to set up Fickou. On another day Freeman’s try and Ford’s outstanding conversion would have been the headline but this time it was to be Ramos who delivered the coup de grace.

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