England fell to a second chastening defeat in two matches as Ireland’s bonus-point win over Scotland secured the Six Nations title.
Eddie Jones’ men needed to beat France and score four tries to keep the championship alive, but they came nowhere close in a largely toothless display that belied their status as the world’s second-ranked team.
A game poised at 9-9 at half-time was blown open when Anthony Watson’s high tackle on Benjamin Fall saw the England full-back sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes and a penalty try awarded.
Jonny May’s late try gave them hope of an unlikely win, but France held out against a white-shirted onslaught at the death for only their second win in a year.
Not since 2006 have England lost three matches in a single Six Nations season, but with Ireland coming to Twickenham next Saturday with a Grand Slam in their sights, that is now a real possibility.
England had won nine of the last 11 matches between these two sides in the Six Nations, including the last three in a row.
But they only found any fluidity in the last 15 minutes, and this is now three defeats in their last five matches in a tournament they had won in Jones’s first two years in charge.
Familiar problems for men in white
England’s hopes of keeping the title alive soon became focused on simply getting another win in a city that has brought them so much recent success.
While they began at pace in the stadium where they sealed the Grand Slam two years ago, Owen Farrell landing an early penalty, the issues which have dogged them this year returned once again.
They conceded eight penalties in the first 40 minutes as they were again second best at the breakdown, allowing Maxime Machenaud to kick the points to keep his side right in the contest after Farrell and Elliot Daly – with a monster penalty from 55 metres – had opened a little daylight at 9-3.
Strong in the scrum and line-out, England were predictable in attack, their ball-carriers too often isolated and the pace of the back three underused.
Having scored nine tries in their first 100 minutes of Six Nations rugby this year their failure to cross the white line in the first half meant they had scored just one try in their next 180 minutes.
Watson yellow hurts
It got worse as the second half began. Francois Trinh-Duc kicked to the left-hand corner, and when Fall seized the ball Watson could stop him only with a high tackle.
Referee Jaco Peyper consulted television match official Ben Skeen and then correctly called it as both a penalty try and yellow card, the Stade de France alive as France’s lead stretched to 16-9.
They should have scored again in the opposite corner after a scintillating break by winger Remy Grosso, only to blow a clear overlap with the English defence ripped open.
Jones threw on Jonathan Joseph for George Ford on the hour, Farrell switching to fly-half, with James Haskell already on for Joe Launchbury.
But Haskell gave away another penalty to allow Machenaud to kick France into a 10-point lead.
Hope flared briefly for the visitors when Daly’s smart pass back inside from Farrell’s flat pass found May for the winger to dive over the line, Farrell adding a fine conversion from out wide for 22-16.
Replacement Lionel Beauxis calmed home nerves with another penalty, although even then England had two line-outs on the French five-metre line as they searched for the converted try that would have stolen it.
But as their forwards hammered away a metre out they were penalised for the 16th time, and Paris could celebrate long and loud.
Man of the match: Remy Grosso
We’re struggling at the moment – England boss Jones
England head coach Eddie Jones: “It’s a learning period for us. We’re struggling at the moment, so we’re always looking to learn and make sure we’re stronger next time we play. We’re going through a difficult period and we’ll come out the other side of it soon I’m sure.
“We were about 2-3% from where we needed to be today. We were beaten at the breakdown, we gave away too many penalties, and when we had the momentum we didn’t score, whereas they did.”
England were really poor – the pundits’ view
Former Ireland captain Paul O’Connell: “England were really poor today [but] it’s not the end of the world.
“You can’t write players off but they were a long way off today and there is a lot of soul searching to be done.”
Former England centre Jeremy Guscott: “That was a deserved victory for France. It wasn’t full of fair or exciting brilliance – the game was exciting because it was close.
“For me the fault for England comes down to individuals. There were too many penalties, and then when it comes down to the last minute you have to have composure. Ireland showed it.”
France: Bonneval; Fall, Bastareaud, Doumayrou, Grosso; Trinh-Duc, Machenaud; Poirot, Guirado, Slimani, Gabrillagues, Vahaamahina, Lauret, Camara, Tauleigne.
Replacements: Fickou for Bonneval (41), Beauxis for Trinh-Duc (71), Couilloud for Machenaud (71), Pelissie for Guirado (66), Gomes Sa for Slimani (59).
Not Used: Priso, Taofifenua, Galletier.
England: Watson; May, Te’o, Farrell, Daly; Ford, Care; Vunipola, George, Cole, Launchbury, Itoje, Lawes, Robshaw, Hughes.
Replacements: Brown for Watson (68), Joseph for Ford (60), Wigglesworth for Care (68), Marler for Vunipola (64), Cowan-Dickie for George (64), Sinckler for Cole (58), Haskell for Launchbury (52), Simmonds for Huges (24).
Sin bin: Watson (49).
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/rugby-union/43309179