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Academy trio star in England U20 comeback win

Jack Bates, Deago Bailey and Alex Groves all featured as England U20 Men produced a stunning second half comeback to begin their 2021 Six Nations campaign with a win against France.

With all of the matches for this tournament taking place at Cardiff Arms Park, England named 12 debutants in the starting XV at this level and they trailed 19-3 at the break. However, five tries in the second 40 minutes secured an opening round bonus-point win.

In mild, overcast conditions in south Wales, it was Les Bleus who took the lead inside three minutes when Alexandre Tchaptchet broke the defensive live and fed Nelson Epee and the wing dived over in the corner, with Thimault Debaes converting.

England’s first entry into opposition 22 saw Worcester fly half Fin Smith, on his first start, knock over a simple penalty, but France got their second score when Debaes’ clever cross field kick was perfectly measured for Epee to catch and cross.

Epee had his hat-trick within 21 minutes when France attacked down the blind side, and Léo Barré fed him and the left wing easily sprinted in. A dominant first 40 minutes for France meant they led 19-3.

Alan Dickens’ side improved from the first whistle of the second half and after a succession of pick and drives, London Irish flanker Lucas Brooke pounced from the back of a ruck, with Smith adding the extras. 

England’s second try arrived within four minutes when replacement Sam Riley, of Harlequins, was the beneficiary of a powerful driving maul from a lineout, as Smith’s conversion saw England reduce the deficit to two points with their best spell of the game.

Debaes’ penalty got France’s first points after the break, but England’s attack continued to thrive in the second half when Bath full back Orlando Bailey handed off the defence, broke the line and rolled over under the sticks – Smith’s conversion giving England the lead for the first time as the clock hit 56 minutes.

The momentum shift continued England’s way when Smith’s lofted, looping pass to the left wing allowed Exeter’s Arthur Relton to stroll in, and Smith composed himself to nail the conversion from the touchline.

It was off the back off another driving maul from a throw in that Bailey went in for his second try as England’s finishers all contributed to their outstanding second half, with Smith’s conversion keeping up his 100% record from the tee on the day.

The victory means England are unbeaten since 2016 against France in this competition and move onto their second match of the tournament when they face Scotland on Friday (KO 1400 BST). 


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