England, Champions of the world but far from the best team in Europe on the evidence of recent results, fell to France by a point at Twickenham yesterday, losing 18-17 despite scoring the only tries of a low-quality match through the Bath centre Olly Barkley and the Wasps wing Josh Lewsey.
Dimitri Yachvili, the scrum-half from Biarritz, scored all Les Bleus' points with six penalty goals, the last of them four minutes from the end of normal time. Charlie Hodgson and Barkley, on the other hand, missed three penalties each.
It was England's second successive Six Nations defeat, following the two-point reverse in Cardiff against Wales. Red rose historians must go back to 1988 to find a similarly poor start to the tournament.
France's head coach Bernard Laporte conceded that England might have prevailed had the injured Jonny Wilkinson played. "Maybe," he said. "Wilkinson is Wilkinson."
His England counterpart, Andy Robinson, who succeeded Sir Clive Woodward last September, claimed his side should have won. "It was always our own mistakes that caused us problems," he said. "We lost the game because we gave away penalties. We're big enough to take this on the chin. We'll be a better side after this."
Robinson asked: "What did France create?" To which Dave Ellis, the visitors' defensive coach, replied pointedly: "What did we create? We created a victory."
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