By JEROME PUGMIRE
2014-02-02 03:42 AM
PARIS (AP) -- Substitutes Dimitri Szarzewski and Gael Fickou combined to score a late converted try for France to secure a dramatic 26-24 win against England in their Six Nations opener on Saturday.
With two minutes remaining, the hooker Szarzewski made a brilliant break down the left and fed Fickou, and the center cut inside his marker before running round behind the posts.
The win will boost a France team looking to make amends for the humiliation of last year's wooden spoon, and that should be averted with Italy next up at home. England, runner-up in the last two Six Nations, travels to Scotland next weekend.
England punished weak defending from France to rally from 16-3 down.
No. 8 Billy Vunipola was the heaviest player on the pitch and England's most dangerous runner, setting up both tries for fullback Mike Brown and outside center Luther Burrell on debut as Stuart Lancaster's relatively inexperienced side carved holes in the French midfield in the second half.
Right winger Yoann Huget scored two tries for France in the first half.
Both sides are in somewhat of a rebuilding process.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre surprisingly chose scrumhalf Jules Plisson alongside flyhalf Jean-Marc Doussain -- both are 22 and had never played together -- while Alexandre Flanquart won only his third cap. Winger Jack Nowell also made his England debut.
Huget scored within the first minute.
Plisson's kick ahead deflected into the path of Huget, who scooped it up and ran into the right corner for an unconverted score.
England charged straight back and, following a period of pressure, Owen Farrell nailed a difficult kick from wide right to make it 5-3. But Doussain slotted over from close range for 8-3 after France pinned England into the left corner.
But it was on the other flank where England struggled the most, and after a turnover, Doussain grabbed the ball and broke a couple of tackles before kicking ahead. The bounce went in Huget's favor and his pace took him clear for his fifth international try. Doussain missed the conversion but made amends with a more straightforward penalty kick for 16-3.
Fullback Brice Dulin went close to giving France a third try, but his kick ahead bounced off the flag and he was unable to properly gather.
Moments before the interval, Brown wriggled his way past three defenders and into the left corner. Neither team kicked well, with Farrell missing the conversion and sending a dropped goal wide, meaning France led 16-8 at halftime.
France led 10-9 at halftime last year at Twickenham before losing 23-13, but this time they held on.
England camped on the French line early in the second half and, after a try for scrumhalf Danny Care was ruled out following a replay, England got a penalty and Farrell made it 16-11 from about 30 meters out.
France looked increasingly nervous and, after Farrell exquisitely timed a pass for Vunipola to burst through the midfield, with French players hanging off him, he offloaded for Burrell to sprint in for a converted score. Care's dropped goal from close range made it 21-16 with about 20 minutes left.
Replacement scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud slotted a penalty to bring France within two points, but Alex Goode responded shortly after to leave France needing a converted try with minutes left.
England left winger Jonny May left the field in the second half with a suspected broken nose, but after Fickou's late try it was a case of broken English hearts.