England (9) 19
Tries: Te'o ; Conversions: Farrell; Penalties: Farrell 4;
France (9) 16
Tries: Slimani ; Conversions: Lopez; Penalties: Lopez 3;
England needed a late Ben Te'o try to begin the defence of their Six Nations title with victory over a spirited France at Twickenham. Eddie Jones' men claimed a record 15th consecutive win but they were pushed all the way by Les Blues, who led with nine minutes remaining before eventually succumbing in the closing stages.
Guy Noves' side dominated for long periods of the game but they were unable to punish a lacklustre England, who looked a shadow of the side who had won the grand slam 11 months previous. Camille Lopez and Owen Farrell shared six penalties during the opening 40 minutes, before replacement Rabah Slimani's try looked to have given the visitors their first championship win over at the home of the Red Rose since 2005.
But waves of late pressure from England proved too much for the French as the bench thrust the hosts into a pivotal lead as Te'o went over for his first international try on just his third appearance. The late salvo was cruel on a valiant France but the showing lays the platform for a Six Nations Championship which is expected the most competitive for a generation.
Jones had promised "war" on the 103rd edition of 'Le Crunch' but there was enough invention on show to suggest that the pair's Six Nations opener would hinge on flair and excitement as much as blood and thunder. England may have begun the championship as marginal favourites but with a string of contenders for the title, not least France, promised to be push them to their limit.
For every returnee - Maro Itoje and Joe's Marler and Launchbury - there was an absentee for the reigning champions including Chris Robshaw, Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi. Les Blues were similarly hampered having lost Wesley Forfana but an encouraging autumn which had included the international emergence of Baptiste Serin had once again raised expectations south of the Channel Tunnel.
But a failure to win at Twickenham for 12 years would ensure that for all their improvement under Noves the visitors would still be regarded as heavy underdogs. England had not lost a home championship match for nearly five years, or indeed any game since their World Cup exit 490 days ago.
The away side started with little respect for recent history and after Mike Brown kept Noa Nakaitaci from scoring the opening try, Lopez kicked a penalty to ensure France returned from their first foray into the England half with the early lead. Farrell responded in kind but the hosts' card had been firmly marked.
Matters barely improved for Jones' men as May was sin-binned for lifting Gael Fickou in the tackle, allowing Lopez to re-establish the lead. Itoje became the latest man to then be punished for poor technique in the tackle, as the Clermont Auvergne half-back doubled the advantage.
Farrell continued the run of penalties to reduce the arrears and it sparked a pulsating exchange of attacks first as Remi Lamerat's pass out of the back teed up Nakaitaci but he was tackled in touch by Daly; before Nathan Hughes led a breakaway prior to George Ford's cross-field kick to almost set up the reinstated May.
Lopez missed an opportunity to put France further ahead after Tom Wood was wrongly penalised for playing the ball out of the ruck and he was firmly punished as Farrell levelled for the second time from fully 40 meters. Though England had parity they barely deserved it after arguably the worst 40 minutes in Jones' tenure as coach.
The post denied England the lead for the first time upon the resumption as Farrell finally failed from the floor. It was then the turn of May to be cruelly prevented from thrusting the home side ahead as he was adjudged to have put a foot in touch as he went over in the corner having sprung free following George Ford's flat pass.
France's threat had now been nullified and it was only a matter of time before England were rewarded for their improvement. Farrell did eventually record the first points of the half to put England ahead but there remained plenty of work to do before victory could be secured.
And it appeared to be an uphill task for England as France claimed the first try following some stunning interplay inside the 22. Kevin Gourdon produced a fine offload in the tackle and Slimani took full advantage on the shoulder.
James Haskell and Danny Care emerged from the bench, which Jones has labelled as world class prior to the game, and that proved to be the case in the closing stages. Farrell teed up another of the replacements, Worcester's Te'o who produced the ultimate sucker-punch to haul England out of trouble and ensure they begin their Six Nations defence by retaining their 100% record under Jones.
England: 15. Mike Brown, 14. Jonny May, 13. Jonathan Joseph, 12. Owen Farrell, 11. Elliot Daly, 10. George Ford, 9. Ben Youngs; 1. Joe Marler, 2. Dylan Hartley (c), 3. Dan Cole, 4. Joe Launchbury, 5. Courtney Lawes, 6. Maro Itoje, 7. Tom Wood, 8. Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: 16. Jamie George, 17. Matt Mullan, 18. Kyle Sinckler, 19. Teimana Harrison, 20. James Haskell, 21. Danny Care, 22. Ben Te'o, 23. Jack Nowell.
France: 15. Scott Spedding, 14. Noa Nakaitaci, 13. Remi Lamerat, 12. Gael Fickou, 11. Virimi Vakatawa, 10. Camille Lopez, 9. Baptiste Serin; 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Guilhem Guirado (c), 3. Uini Atonio, 4. Sebastien Vahaamahina, 5. Yoann Maestri, 6. Damien Chouly, 7. Kevin Gourdon, 8. Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: 16. Clement Maynadier, 17. Rabah Slimani, 18. Xavier Chiocci, 19. Arthur Iturria, 20. Loann Goujon, 21. Maxime Machenaud, 22. Jean Marc Doussain.