By Michael Hann
LONDON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - England coach Stuart Lancaster hailed his young side's character and resilience despite watching them suffer a narrow 26-24 defeat to France in their opening Six Nations game on Saturday.
Having conceded a try after 30 seconds and trailed 16-8 at the interval, England fought back superbly as Mike Brown and debutant centre Luther Burrell both scored tries, while buccaneering number eight Billy Vunipola proved to be a handful for the French defence.
Danny Care's drop goal edged England into a 21-16 lead before both sides traded penalties but, despite looking on course for victory, Lancaster's side were to be denied when Gael Fickou scored with four minutes remaining and Maxime Machenaud kicked the winning conversion.
"I thought the boys showed incredible character, resilience and a lot of skill to put ourselves in a position to win it," Lancaster told reporters.
"It was a great performance in lots of ways. We're very proud. Once we get over the initial disappointment we'll take a huge amount of positives from the game," he added.
"Games are never won or lost in one moment. Everything matters at this level. It was a great test match played by two great teams.
"But a bit of French flair at the end and they got the win."
England fielded a young, inexperienced side at the Stade de France including two debutants in Burrell and 20-year-old wing Jack Nowell, while their backline had an average age of 24.
Despite their apparent lack of know-how, Lancaster was encouraged with what he saw from his youngsters and he is confident they will grow in stature as the tournament progresses.
"It was a good place to come and the crowd's up and I thought our young players learned a lot today," Lancaster, who is leading England in his third Six Nations campaign, said.
"Five of our pack made their first start in France. They were the youngest pack in the championship and they did extremely well."
Lancaster, whose side travel to Scotland next weekend, is well aware they cannot afford to slip up again if they wish to be crowned champions for the first time since 2011.
"We've learned a lot from this game. We dominated the middle third and to claw our way back from 16-3 was great," he added.
"Overall the positives of the performance will outweigh the result, but we recognise we need to win big games." (Editing by Rex Gowar)