England's Under-18 AER side, skippered by Gloucester's Mike Wilcox, suffered an agonising defeat 19-20 in the final of the Association Europeenne de Rugby Tournament in Toulon today as hosts France retained the title.
Prior to the game, Wilcox had expressed how determined the England team had been to win the tournament for the first time in three years:
"Our mission statement when we got together earlier this season was to get to the final and then to win it," said Wilcox, who plays for St Peter's Catholic HS and Gloucester.
"We said when we played Ireland that it was the biggest game of our careers to date, but playing France, the hosts in a fantastic stadium, is even bigger."
"But we don't want to be just part of a big occasion, we want to win the competition."
"Honours don't come much bigger than captaining your country and it will be a very proud moment both for myself and my family when I lead the side out on Saturday."
And England duly played their part in a fast and furious game which was a terrific advert for age group rugby.
But they ran out of time in their attempt to overturn the 14 points advantage that France established with two converted tries early in the second half.
A try from centre Sam Stanley, the nephew of former All Blacks legend Joe, and a conversion and two penalties from skipper Mike Wilcox reduced France's lead to a point but the final whistle came as England were battering away at the home line.
"If we had played another couple of minutes we would probably have won," said Paul Mullan, England's head coach.
"We had three or four half-chances which we couldn't take and some last-ditch tackling from the French frustrated us at the end.
"Marland Yarde almost scored from a 60 metres break but he got hauled down just short of the line."
"We probably needed to control the ball better at times but it was a fantastic game of rugby and you have to give credit to the boys for the way they stood up in what was an intimidating atmosphere."
"There was a big crowd, mainly French as you would expect, but our line-out and scrummage were outstanding."
"Today's result was disappointing because it was our only defeat of the season and we set out to win this competition for the first time in three years."
"But we won five of our six games this season and I think that we have seen plenty of development in the players since we first got together in January."
"That is a credit to the coaches and management team. They have been a great group to work with, it's been a very enjoyable season and I'm hoping that the boys will go on to bigger and better things as a result of this experience."
England's first half points came from a penalty from Stanley and dropped goal from Wilcox but France landed three penalties to hold a slender 9-6 lead at the interval.
Today's result means that England will be second seed for next season's AER Tournament.
England Under-18 AER
15 Ben Ransom (Tonbridge School, Saracens and Kent); 14 Anders Mogensen (Millfield School and Northampton Saints), 13Henry Staff (Bedford Modern School, Saracens and Hertfordshire), 12 Sam Stanley (Oaklands College, Saracens and Essex), 11 Alex Lewington (Nottingham HS and Leicester Tigers); 10 Mike Wilcox (St Peter's RC HS, Gloucester and Gloucestershire - captain), 9 Chris Cook (Millfield School, Bath and Somerset); 1 Simon McIntyre (St Bedes School, Broughton Park, Sale Sharks and Lancashire), 2 Harry Hannan (Woodhouse Grove School, Leeds Carnegie and Yorkshire), 3 Will Collier (Cranleigh School, Harlequins and Surrey), 4 Joe Launchbury (Christ's Hospital School, Harlequins and Sussex), 5 Kieron Low (Havant College, Chichester and Sussex), 6 Chris Walker (Prince Henry's GS, Leeds Carnegie and Yorkshire), 7 Oliver Robinson (Prior Park College, Bath and Somerset), 8 Matt Kvesic (Worcester Sixth Form College, Worcester Warriors and North Midlands).
Replacements used :
Matt Keyte (Dulwich College, Bath and Surrey), Ben Mosses (Millfield School, Bath and Somerset) for Cook, Marland Yarde (Whitgift School, London Irish and Middlesex) for Ransom, Josh Elliott (Dulwich College, Old Alleynians, London Wasps and Surrey) for Hannan, Chris Fox (Bromsgrove School, Worcester Warriors and North Midlands) for Collier, David Francis (Twyford C of E High School, London Wasps and Middlesex) for Walker, Matthew Steele (Dame Alice Owen School, Saracens and Hertfordshire) for Low, Liam Wilkinson (St Peter's Catholic HS, Gloucester and Gloucestershire) for Kvesic.
Billy Twelvetrees spoke to Russ Hargreaves of Talking Rugby at England training ahead of Sunday's huge RBS Six Nations clash with Wales at Twickenham. The centre is relishing the challenge of fronting up against a smart and talented Welsh back line.
Tim Taylor spoke to Gloucester Rugby TV after the 31 year old fly half announced that he was retiring from professional rugby. The Derby-born pivot, is excited for what the future holds for his new business ventures despite his career being cut short by a knee injury.
Dan Robson spoke to Gloucester Rugby TV at Franklin's Gardens following the 39-13 loss to Saints. The scrum-half enjoyed his battle with Lee Dickson but was gutted at the result as the Cherry and Whites did not do themselves justice, falling off in the closing stages to the league leaders.
Speaking after the game at Franklin's Gardens, Director of Rugby Nigel Davies reflected on a disappointing final quarter which saw Northampton Saints ease their way to a comfortable 39-13 win on Saturday afternoon.
Gloucester Rugby TV caught up with Gareth Evans this week ahead of the trip to Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership. The back rower explained his pride in his performances this season but knows there is still a lot for him to learn.
Gloucester Rugby travel to take on the table topping Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership on Saturday. Director of Rugby Nigel Davies is well aware of the qualities of Jim Mallinder's side, but Gloucester are the only team to defeat the Saints in the league this season.
Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan is hoping to start against Wales a week on Sunday, a team containing a number of former club team mates. He told the RFU.com website that he's looking forward to the prospect.
Second row James Hudson spoke to the club website following the 25-20 victory over Harlequins about how missed chances made things nervy late on, on what was a hugely emotional day for the Gloucester team.
There will be a trio of Gloucester Rugby players in the England Rugby starting line up for Sunday's huge clash with Wales at Twickenham. Number eight Ben Morgan is named to start with Billy Twelvetrees and Jonny May continuing in the back line.
England Under 20s have named their side to take on Wales for Friday's Under 20 Six Nations clash at Kingston Park, and Gloucester Rugby duo Billy Burns and Ross Moriarty keep their places in the starting line-up, with Jonny Hill named on the bench.