On This Day: Late Fickou try breaks England hearts

Gael Fickou scores a try to win the match 1/2/2014
A try inside 30 seconds, a brave fightback and late drama – France’s rollercoaster win over England on the opening weekend of the 2014 Championship had it all.

A try inside 30 seconds, a brave fightback and late drama – France’s rollercoaster win over England on the opening weekend of the 2014 Championship had it all.

Matches between the two in Paris are never dull and this contest, which took place seven years ago today, certainly lived up to the hype.

As the first set of fixtures in this year’s Guinness Six Nations looms into view, let’s take a look back at one of the best Round 1 clashes in recent memory…


England came into the 2014 Championship looking to go one better than the previous year, when their Grand Slam hopes were comprehensively dashed by a fired up Wales side in Cardiff on the final day.

Stuart Lancaster was keen to blood some of the promising youngsters at his disposal and he named two debutants, Luther Burrell and Jack Nowell, in the starting XV for the trip to Paris.

Jonny May was handed his first Championship start in a fresh-faced backline while the hosts had a debutant of their own in fly-half Jules Plisson.

France were looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 campaign which ended with the wooden spoon – the first time since 1999 that Les Bleus had finished bottom of the pile.


It took less than a minute for this one to spark into life as the home side set the tone for what would become a thrilling contest.

One of Plisson’s first involvements in Test rugby saw the youngster aim a kick towards the right wing which deflected off an English boot and landed perfectly in the grateful arms of Yoann Huget, who sprinted clear to dive over the line and open the scoring.

The conversion was missed by Jean-Marc Doussain, who then exchanged penalties with Owen Farrell before France extended their advantage with a second try.

This time it was Brice Dulin whose chip caused problems for the visiting defence, with both Nowell and Alex Goode deceived by the bounce – Huget was on hand to pounce and double his tally.

Doussain’s penalty made it 16-3 to Philippe Saint-Andre’s side with just over a quarter of the match played, leaving England with a mountain to climb.


England were desperate to gain a foothold in the contest before the break and they did just that with four minutes of the first half remaining.

Danny Care laid the foundations with a smart break to take the visitors within five metres, Billy Vunipola smartly picked up a tricky pass and Mike Brown was on hand to cross in the corner and give the visitors hope.

England began the second half as they had ended the first and after Farrell’s penalty had reduced the deficit to five, the comeback was complete when Lancaster’s men constructed a well-worked try.

Vunipola was again heavily involved, storming through midfield with a trademark break before setting Burrell free to sprint under the posts for a debut score.

Farrell added the routine conversion to take England into a remarkable lead with more than half an hour still to play.

A drop goal from the quick-thinking Care inside the French 22 continued the visiting momentum before a penalty for each side saw the Red Rose enter the final eight minutes with a 24-19 lead.


England appeared to be closing in on back-to-back Championship wins in Paris for the first time since the early 1990s – but there was still time for one final twist in this epic encounter.

It arrived in the 77th minute as two French replacements combined to devastating effect.

2021 Guinness Six Nations fixtures

Dimitri Szarzewski made the initial break before feeding Gael Fickou, the then 19-year-old winning his fourth cap.

Fickou showed composure beyond his years to sell a superb dummy and cross for a try which sent the majority of the 80,000 fans inside the Stade de France into raptures.

With the scores level, Maxime Machenaud added the extras from bang in front to restore the hosts’ lead – and this time there was no time for England to respond.

England went on to win their remaining four fixtures in 2014 as they recorded another runners-up finish behind champions Ireland, who held their nerve to seal the title in dramatic fashion with a 22-20 win in Paris.

That defeat ensured a fourth-placed finish for Saint-Andre’s side, who finished with three wins to their name.