France steal win at death to break English hearts

Wales win but fail to impress against Italy in Six Nations opener

Gael Fickou dives to score the winning try in France's 26-24 defeat of England on Saturday in the Six Nations opener for both sides. Christophe Karaba / EPA
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PARIS // A brilliant late Gael Fickou try helped France to a stunning 26-24 win over England in their Six Nations opener in Paris on Saturday.

Maxime Machenaud kicked the resulting conversion from under the posts as an exhilarating contest ended in fitting style.

France looked to have blown it after two Yoann Huget tries had given them a 16-3 lead midway through the first half, only for Mike Brown – with his first try in 22 England matches – and Luther Burrell, on his debut, to cross the white wash and help England to a five-point lead with just three minutes left.

Huget opened the scoring after 32 seconds as he took a loose ball and dived over in the corner.

Owen Farrell kicked a penalty to bring the score back to 5-3. A penalty from scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain on 11 minutes extended France’s lead before Huget scored again on 16 minutes as France led 16-3.

Brown held off two tacklers to touch down, although Owen Farrell missed the extras.

England came out firing after the break as Farrell landed a penalty to cut the deficit to 16-11.

Billy Vunipola surged through midfield before offloading to Burrell, who scored under the posts. Farrell’s conversion gave the visitors an 18-16 lead. England scrum-half Danny Care then dinked over a drop goal on 57 minutes.

Replacement scrum-half Maxime Machenaud kicked France back to within two points, yet a swift reply from Alex Goode saw England open up a 24-19 lead. But Fickou had the last say as ran in unopposed under the posts.

In Cardiff, Jamie Roberts, the Wales centre, blamed “silly mistakes” for their unconvincing 23-15 win over Italy at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

First-half tries by wing Alex Cuthbert and Scott Williams underpinned a healthy 17-3 interval advantage, but Wales needed Leigh Halfpenny’s three penalties as Michele Campagnaro’s second-half try double put the game back in the balance.

“We certainly made it hard for ourselves,” Roberts told the BBC. “We need a massive focus [next week against Ireland] on retaining the ball and no silly mistakes. We just have to look at ourselves in training this week and cut out the errors”.

Coach Warren Gatland put a more positive spin on the result.

“They made it tough for us,” he said. “Italy were dogged.”

Gatland said his players felt the Italians were going down with injuries too much at the breakdown. “It was a bit stop-start but that was what we have got to deal with,” he added.