England men U20s got their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start with a 29-24 bonus-point win over France in Grenoble.
England led 10-9 at the break through Rusiate Tuima’s try and five points from the boot of Josh Hodge while Joris Moura kicked all of France’s points.
Second-half scores from Hodge and Tom Roebuck gave England a 24-12 lead but tries from Jordan Joseph and Ethan Dumortier levelled the game.
With just a minute remaining though Richard Capstick bundled over after England went through several phases to seal victory.
Alan Dickens’ side, who were fielding nine debutants at U20 level, started well and Hodge sent over an early penalty to give England the lead which Moura cancelled out inside 15 minutes. Soon after he put the hosts 6-3 ahead with a long-range penalty in a see-saw first half.
France were putting England’s scrum under pressure as the half wore on and a further indiscretion saw them penalised and Maura land his third kick.
England bounced back immediately though, Max Ojomoh jinking his way through midfield before offloading to Tuima to power over which Hodge converted for a 10-9 lead.
Gabriel Hamer-Webb was sent to the sin bin with 25 minutes of the half remaining and Moura kicked France in the lead.
However, England were back in front on the hour through Hodge who collected the ball on halfway and seared his way through the France defence before stepping inside a final defender to cross.
Roebuck had a third England try, collecting a loose ball on halfway to run home unchallenged which Vunipola converted.
Joseph bundled over off the back of a 5m scrum to reduce the deficit, with Tiberghien converting for 19-24.
Emmanuel Iyogun and Paul Mallez were sent to the sin bin as the closing stages became increasingly frantic and Dumortier was over in the corner to level with five minutes remaining.
But England had one score left in them though and Capstick sealed the bonus point late on.
Dickens’s side will next take on Scotland in Myreside, Edinburgh on Friday, before a first home game against Ireland in Northampton, Franklin’s Gardens.
Alan Dickens said: “We kept on fighting and got the win and that just shows how tight this group are. We knew we would get one more chance and they showed great composure to score it. Whether we had won, lost or drawn the same amount of effort would have gone into it, so to score late on is the icing on the cake.
“To come away to France and score four tries and play outstandingly well is an amazing achievement. I’m pleased but we need to look forward and we have a tough challenge against Scotland next. We’ll need to recover, prepare and put in another strong performance.
“I’m proud of the group, but this is testament to the wider network around them, their parents and coaches and the great work that is being done in the academies to develop these players.
“This is such a new group, we had nine debutants on the field so to come to France and defeat the double world U20 champions and defeat them in front of a hostile crowd is a brilliant achievement and will hopefully play a crucial part in their development as future senior internationals.”
England - Tries: Tuima, Hodge, Roebuck, Capstick Cons: Hodge, Vunipola 2 Pens: Hodge
France – Tries: Joseph, Dumortier Con: Tiberghien Pens: Moura 3
England U20: 1 James Whitcombe, 2 Theo Dan, 3 Luke Green, 4 George Hammond, 5 Ben Donnell, 6 JJ Tonks, 7 Richard Capstick, 8 Rusiate Tuima, 9 Sam Maunder (C), 10 Manu Vunipola, 11 Tom Roebuck, 12 Max Ojomoh,13 Connor Doherty, 14 Gabriel Hamer-Webb,15 Josh Hodge
Replacements: 16 Ben Atkins, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Harvey Beaton, 19 Hugh Tizard, 20 Jack Clement, 21 Jack Van Poortvliet, 22 George Barton, 23 Freddie Steward
France XV: 1 Sacha Lotrian, 2 Theo Lachaud, 3 Paul Mallez, 4 Joshua Brennan, 5 Adrien Warion, 6 Gauthier Maravat, 7 Matthias Haddad, 8 Jordan Joseph, 9 Nolann Le Garrec, 10 Joris Moura, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 12 Tani Vili, 13 Yoram Moefana, 14 Nathanael Hulleu, 15 Chiekh Tiberghien
Replacements: 16 Guillaume Cramont, 17 Andy Bordelai, 18 Regis Montagne, 19 Mickael Guillard, 20 Matteo Le Corvec, 21 Baptiste Germain, 22 Thomas Dolhagaray, 23 Romain Fusier