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.
In the second episode in the series of videos where Gloucester Rugby TV chat to box holders at Kingsholm, after they note twenty years as owners of a box. Nick Broady of Avenue Cars and Paul Baldwin of Brunsdons chat to the camera about their memories and about rugby in general.
Gary Jones of Glevum Windows and Conservatories recently visited Kingsholm Stadium and the Cherry and White supporter spoke exclusively to Gloucester Rugby TV after marking two decades as a box holder in the Stowford Press Stand at Kingsholm. A great feat!
Speaking to the local media this week during preseason, new hooker Richard Hibbard said he was really enjoying putting in the hard work and being back to full fitness ahead of the 2014-15 season with the Cherry and Whites.
Nick Walshe was unveiled as Gloucester's new Backs and Attack Coach this week and spoke to Simon Ward for the RFU.com podcast about his excitement at joining Gloucester and working with a new group of players.
Speaking after the Third Test defeat to New Zealand, Ben Morgan told RFU.com that the loss was a disappointing way to sign off the summer tour but that the England team know what they have to do to be successful.
At the end of a tour when there have been so many positives for England, fly half Freddie Burns, who will start the third Test against New Zealand, was clear that the whole squad are focussed on signing off with a memorable win when he spoke to RFU.com
Speaking to Steve Jones of RFU.com straight after the 27-28 defeat to New Zealand on Saturday, Billy Twelvetrees spoke of the frustration of a missed opportunity, but stressed that England would lick their wounds and bounce back.
Freddie Burns contributed 12 points in England's 20-15 defeat against New Zealand on Saturday but, speaking after the game to RFU.com, preferred to talk about the many positives in the performance from Stuart Lancaster's side.
Gloucester number eight Ben Morgan put in a great individual performance as England were just pipped by New Zealand by 20 points to 15 in Auckland on Saturday. He told Steve Jones of RFU.com that the team will be in good spirits going into the 2nd Test in Dunedin.
Gloucester Rugby are fully aware of a delay in the delivery of a small number of club membership packs to supporters ahead of the Premiership Rugby 7s on Thursday evening and would like to issue the following advice.
Thursday will present the first chance for Gloucester Rugby supporters to watch new signing Jacob Rowan in a Cherry and White shirt as the back rower runs out for the first time in the Premiership Rugby Sevens.
Tickets are selling fast for the Premiership Rugby 7s at Kingsholm on Thursday 31 July, so to guarantee your ticket for the return of the action at the 2014-15 season's curtain raiser, the ticket office are opening late on Wednesday evening.
Thursday evening sees the return of live action to Kingsholm in the form of the Premiership Rugby 7s and the Cherry and Whites have named an exciting squad ready to take on Bath Rugby, Exeter Chiefs and London Irish in Pool B.