Owen Farrell kicked an extra-time penalty to spare England’s blushes and win them the Nations Cup.
An extraordinary afternoon at Twickenham brought the return both of fans and rugby drama for the first time this autumn.
The fortunate few saw England emerge victorious from a final for the first time since Jonny Wilkinson dropped the goal that won the World Cup in 2003.
But only after a climax draining enough for the 400 NHS staff invited to the game to think they were on a busman’s holiday.
England trailed 19-12 with time all but up in a game dominated by France despite them fielding a second team with less than a tenth of their opposition’s experience.
The Six Nations champions got out of jail only by playing their lineout-maul trump card on the last play of the match and delivering super sub Luke Cowan-Dickie over the try line.
Farrell, whose radar had been on the blink all afternoon, held his nerve to land the conversion.
He then lost it as his ‘golden’ shot came back off the inside of the post in the first period of sudden death.
“Did I consider handing over the kicking duties? No, I back myself,” England’s captain said after making amends with four minutes left.
“Obviously I missed some that I definitely, definitely shouldn’t have missed and made that game go on longer than it should have.
“There were a lot of chances to win that game. It was my fault that we didn’t take them, but the boys kept going.”
France will be pig sick to lose given they played virtually all the rugby and were harshly treated by the referee.
Rugby legend Michael Lynagh tweeted “absolute rubbish” after pointing out two missed knock-ons by England in the move that led to the game-tying try – one of which Billy Vunipola later owned up to.
France boss Fabian Galthie praised his players for “honouring” the shirt but could not hide his frustration at how the game was lost “on details but also on (refereeing) decisions”.
When the dust settles he will be thrilled with how his fringe players fronted up against the world’s No.2 ranked side – albeit one showing so little ambition – three years out from a home World Cup.
So soon after losing a World Cup final Eddie Jones was happy simply to take the win and leave the worry about how it was achieved for another day.
“It was probably not the way we wanted to play that game,” admitted Vunipola. “We wanted to dominate from the start, but it is finals footie and France came at us hard.
“When you are playing for England, you always have a target on your head. Everyone loves being the underdogs. We are have to deal with being the favourites.
“However, it was a learning curve from the World Cup final. We never panicked.”
ENGLAND – Try: Cowan-Dickie. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 4, Daly.
Daly 6 (out of 10); Watson (Malins 70, 6) 6, Slade 6, Farrell (capt) 7, May 6; Ford 6, Youngs (Robson 70, 7) 6; Genge (Marler 59, 7) 7, George (Cowan-Dickie 66, 6) 7, Sinckler (Stuart 66, 6) 7, Itoje 8, Launchbury (Hill 44, 7) 6, Curry 7, Underhill (Earl 44, 6) 6, B Vunipola 7.
FRANCE – Try: Dulin. Con: Jalibert. Pens: Jalibert 2, Carbonel 2.
Dulin 8; Raka 7, Moefana 7, Danty (Barassi 48, 6) 6, Villiere 7; Jalibert (Carbonel 62, 7) 8, Couilloud (capt, Bezy 80, 5) 7; Kolingar (Neti 52, 5) 7, Bourgarit (Mauvaka 52, 6) 7, Aldegheri 7, Geraci 7, Peseti (Ducat 55, 5) 7, Woki (Macalou 55, 6) 8, Jelonch 7, Tolofua 7.