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.
Speaking to the media following the 31-33 West Country Challenge Cup defeat to Exeter Chiefs at the Memorial Stadium, Director of Rugby David Humphreys was full of praise for his side's battling qualities in a bruising encounter but concerned about the injuries picked up.
The West Country Challenge Cup fixture against the Exeter Chiefs at the Memorial Stadium in Bristol on Saturday (kick off 3pm) will be Gloucester's last chance to work on things like new combinations says Director of Rugby, David Humphreys.
Speaking after the 30-21 West Country Challenge Cup defeat at Bath, Director of Rugby David Humphreys spoke of the improvements his team are making as preseason progresses but acknowledges that there is still work to do ahead of the start of the Aviva Premiership.
Speaking to the local media ahead of Saturday's trip to Bath Rugby in the West Country Challenge Cup, front rower Nick Wood spoke of the hard work put in across the extended preseason and highlighted the competition for front row spots in the squad.
Gloucester have named a 30 man squad for the latest round of West Country Challenge Cup action against Bath on Saturday, with Director of Rugby David Humphreys stressing the need to keep an eye on player workload ahead of what will be a long, tough season.
Describing the 50-7 West Country Challenge Cup win over Bath on Sunday as a '...good hit out...', wing Charlie Sharples admitted that it had been a good opportunity to put into practice things that the squad have been trying out in training in recent weeks.
Speaking to the local media after the 50-7 victory over Bath Rugby on Sunday, David Humphreys was happy with his squad's effort, with the most important aspect being the game time earned by his players.
Gloucester make wholesale changes to the side that started at Exeter last Saturday as they prepare to take on Bath at the Memorial Stadium, Bristol on Sunday in the West Country Challenge Cup (kick off 3pm). The Director of Rugby told GRTV that the players are raring to go and that he's looking forward to seeing different combinations in action.
A late penalty from Exeter fly-half Will Hooley gave the Chiefs a narrow 33-31 West Country Challenge Cup win over a heroic Gloucester outfit in a bruising encounter at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Gloucester Rugby will play their fourth and final West Country Challenge Cup fixture this weekend (Memorial Stadium, Bristol, 3pm) against the Exeter Chiefs, and have named a side featuring a host of first regulars.
On Wednesday evening, Gloucester Rugby duo Mark Atkinson and Tom Savage visited local rugby club Hardwicke and Quedgeley Harlequins RFC for the first session as part of the Gloucester Rugby in Local Clubs coaching initiative.