Ramos’ late penalty gives France win against England in seven-try thriller | Six Nations 2024

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 final table with England further down the pecking order but, in truth, that felt like a relatively minor detail. What mattered was 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 belongs to Ireland. The most sparkling performances in the final two rounds have come from an England side who once again did much to restore their supporters’ faith. Another stunning comeback, this time from 16-3 down after 37 minutes, could not quite yield a fourth win from five games but this was another contest that showed they are indeed making real progress.

It was eventually decided in the last five minutes after Tommy Freeman’s try and George Ford’s touchline conversion seemed to have won the day, only for Thomas Ramos to nick it with a 50-metre penalty at the death. Before that, though, after the second of Ollie Lawrence’s two tries and a jinking score from Marcus Smith, it looked as if Steve Borthwick’s side might be on the verge of something special.

Instead it was France who had the decisive say via a 59th-minute try from Gaël Fickou, with the scrum-half Nolann Le Garrec providing the assist to add to his own eye-catching first-half try, and the deadly boot of Ramos. 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 but France were almost unrecognisable from the side who plodded through the early rounds. Equally there were times when they seemed on the verge of total exhaustion.

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

England do not often win their final game of a Six Nations season, having done so only once – against Italy in 2020 – in their previous seven campaigns. Nor have they had much recent joy against France, who inflicted a record 53-10 beating at Twickenham this time last year. In the gastronomic capital of France, though, England were hungry for revenge and the result was a delicious contest.

The wannabe Lyon tamers could not call upon their new lucky charm Rag N Bone Man this time, with the exciting Immanuel Feyi-Waboso also unavailable to provide extra thrust. They also had to deal with a home crowd whose rendition of La Marseillaise before kick-off was as rousing as anything heard in this year’s competition.

France duly started like a speeding TGV, Fickou passing the ball backwards through his legs to open up a glorious surge down the left touchline. England just about repelled the danger but a couple of thunderous charges from the huge home forwards also took some stopping.

A touch more precision would surely have yielded some early points and when a visibly dismayed Furbank was forced off within the first eight minutes, England had to bring on Marcus Smith in his occasional role of full-back. It was a considerable relief, therefore, when Ford, using every second available to him, slotted a well-struck penalty after a collapsed scrum.

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 team sheet.

It was youthful French exuberance, though, that conjured the game’s first try, an absolute stunner of a team score from 75 metres out started and finished by the gifted Le Garrec with the young full-back Leo Barré providing a casually brilliant left-handed final offload.

England’s need for a response was both obvious and urgent but, instead, it was soon panic stations again. A turnover deep in the French 22 saw Damian Penaud boot the ball long and although Smith won the sprint to collect it he ended up conceding an attacking five metres scrum in the process.

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France could not quite take advantage but England were increasingly hanging on. Another surging line break, this time from Charles Ollivon, could easily have brought another try but a subsequent 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.

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Another deadly accurate 50-metre penalty from Ramos made it 16-3, only for England to resurrect their evening just before at 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.

Against Italy, Wales and Ireland it ultimately did not matter. The first half stats, though, revealed that England had missed 25 tackles and France had conceded only three penalties. It summed up the hosts’ physical impact and smarter decision-making around the rucks but a game of rugby is famously played over 80 minutes

Sure enough it was England who struck with a rattlesnake’s swiftness after the break, not once but twice. First Lawrence stretched out to score his second before another surging break, this time from Ben Earl, gave Smith the chance to finish in some 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.

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