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Steve Borthwick: England must not be happy with just competing against world’s best

England huddle after their agonising defeat to France

Steve Borthwick heralded a new era for England after a thrilling loss to France in Lyon, insisting that his team should not be happy with merely competing against the top four teams in the world.

England began their last Six Nations game of the campaign knowing that the title was beyond them after Ireland had secured the Championship with a 17-13 win over Scotland earlier in the day.

They trailed 16-3 four minutes before half-time but rallied in spectacular style, fired by two tries from Ollie Lawrence and another for Marcus Smith, who spent 73 minutes at full-back due to George Furbank’s calf injury, to forge ahead 24-16.

However, Leo Barré and Gaël Fickou hit back for the hosts before Tommy Freeman’s finish out wide (watch video below), beautifully converted by George Ford, gave England a 31-30 advantage.

Heart-breakingly for Borthwick’s side, a long-range penalty from Thomas Ramos (watch video below), with just a minute remaining, would prove to be the difference on the back of what was deemed to be a no-arms tackle from Ben Earl.

While he took great heart from a dogged performance underpinned by dynamic attack, which built upon last weekend’s win over Ireland and showcased more attacking improvements, Borthwick vowed that England would not be satisfied by a gallant defeat.

“I am really disappointed for the players, they worked so hard and for the supporters who were magnificent,” he told the BBC. “I am immensely proud; you can see how the shirt is getting lighter.

“Sometimes you have to stay in the fight and we saw that, if we had one more opportunity we could have got that score. With that kind of intensity, we never lose; we just run out of time.

“I am proud, but disappointed we didn’t get the win. We have shown in the last two weeks we are competing with the top four teams again. But we don’t want to just compete; we want to win and this is a step in the right direction.”

Borthwick declined to comment on the decision to penalise Earl (watch video below), suggesting that the aftermatch of “an incredible Test match” was not the moment to discuss the penalty awarded by Angus Gardner, which was converted by Ramos from 50m.

“I hope there are boys and girls back home we have influenced positively, who want to be the next Jamie George at Saracens, or Ben Earl, or George Martin at Leicester,” Borthwick said. “It’s that kind of influence that we’ve had before in England and we’ll continue to do that.”

Jamie George, the England captain, admitted to feeling “devastated” by an experience similar to the World Cup semi-final against South Africa last October.

“I don’t really know how to sum that up,” said the hooker. “France showed their class, but we found a way back into the game. I am really proud of the boys, it was a great effort. This is a team on an upward curve.

“The way we came out at the start of the second half was impressive. When we play, when we put teams under pressure with the ball, we look a very dangerous team. I felt like we put France under a lot of pressure, but fair play to them; they showed their class.

“Sometimes you can take the score out of it and take the performance as a whole. It was not perfect by all means but we gave it a good go and I thought our scrum and our set piece held up nicely. Discipline let us down a little bit.

“The endeavour to go out there, have a crack and play with a smile on our faces, I thought the boys did that. I have loved the last seven weeks.”

Shaun Edwards, the France defence coach, suggested that France were rescued by their ability to punish England’s mistakes. Nolann le Garrec’s first-half try was a clinic in counter-attack, set up by Barré, and Damian Penaud pounced to release Fickou for a crucial score in the second period (watch video below) after Fabien Galthié had used his heavyweight bench to regain impetus.

Even in a victory that secured second place for France, Edwards was forthright about the problems that England had caused his team.

“Our attack was fantastic, especially our maul,” Edwards said. “[But] I was very disappointed with our defence, I thought England’s attack was all over us, particularly in our midfield.

“We have a lot of work to do, we shouldn’t have to score 30 points to win a game, even if it’s exciting. On the field we were just missing tackles, not being aggressive enough.

“There are a lot of tries being scored in modern day rugby, but I thought today our defence was probably the worst performance we have had since I have been here.

“The future is good; we have to work harder in our defence and be more vigilant in that area.”

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