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France wins at home

Monday, February 03, 2014

PARIS - England coach Stuart Lancaster was surprisingly upbeat despite seeing his side suffer a last-gasp 26-24 defeat to France in their Six Nations opener yesterday.

Gael Fickou's try three minutes from time at the Stade de France in Paris allowed Maxime Machenaud to kick a winning conversion for the hosts.

Yet Lancaster preferred to focus on the positives in an enthralling clash that swayed one way and the other before ending with a French success.

"There were five of our pack making their first start here in France, it's the youngest pack in the championship and I thought they did extremely well," Lancaster said.

"We've learnt a lot from this. That middle third we dominated and to claw ourselves back from 16-3 down is a great credit to us."

Two Yoann Huget tries in the opening 18 minutes, both after favourable bounces landed in his arms and wrong-footed defenders, helped the hosts open up a 16-3 lead.

But England scored 18 unanswered points as they dominated the middle third of the match before leading 24-19 with minutes remaining.

Yet Fickou's try turned the game on its head and allowed Philippe Saint-Andre's team to begin the year in much better fashion than they did 2013, when they started with a defeat to Italy in Rome.

"We were very disappointed to concede (the late try) but credit to the French team for how they created that opportunity from inside their own half," added Lancaster.

France coach Saint-Andre praised his side's never-say-die attitude.

"At 16-3 we lacked patience, we didn't get penalties, our kicking wasn't quick enough and we messed up in the line-out. We could have managed the tempo better," he said.

"But England put in so much effort (during the middle period) buty they were less aggressive in the last 15 minutes and we managed to get our hands on the ball and found solutions.

"This try at the end of the match is a try of hope and of this young team led by Pascal (Pape) that never gave up."

Yet despite the dramatic nature of victory, Saint-Andre said he had enjoyed better days as France coach.

"It's not the best emotion, that was at the beginning when we won the November series (in 2012) and beat Australia, there was also a lot of emotion then," he said.

France lost eight out of 11 internationals last year having never recovered from starting their Six Nations campaign, which they finished bottom, with a defeat.

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