England Under-20s coach Jon Callard has backed his side to learn from their mistakes after securing a World Rugby Under 20 Championship semi-final berth against South Africa – despite losing to France on Wednesday night.
England are the fourth qualifier after finishing second in Pool A as results in other pools swung their way.
They were always playing catch-up in Viadana, Damian Penaud’s quick-fire try double helping Les Bleus to a 17-8 half-time lead, Harlequins’ James Chisholm responding with a score of his own for the Red Rose.
And while Callard’s men continued to battle – a penalty try helping the fightback – Thibault Estorge went over shortly after the break as France finished top of the pool to set up a last four showdown with New Zealand.
England, who are aiming for a third Under 20 Championship success in a row, will now take the fight to 2014 finalists South Africa on Monday – and Callard is adamant his side can regroup.
“Credit to France. They made inroads into our set-piece that caused us some frustration and we compounded errors with errors,” he said.
“We made silly mistakes that we hadn’t made in the tournament so far. Unfortunately, we just made too many of them.
“Fair play to our lads, they stuck at it for long periods in what was a very physical and dogged game.
“As I said to them in the changing room, they will feel disappointed. But if they can learn something from this, it will have a purposeful effect heading into the rest of their careers moving forward.”
In a winner-takes-all clash, Thomas Ramos slotted an early penalty to give France control before Penaud raced over twice in the space of seven minutes.
A well-taken score from Chisholm, who made three Aviva Premiership Rugby appearances for the Quins last season, allied with three points from the boot of Bath Rugby prospect Rory Jennings did give Callard’s men some momentum heading into the break as they closed the deficit to nine points.
But Estorge applied the finishing touch to an irresistible French maul just four minutes into the second half to dent hopes of an English comeback, Ramos adding the conversion.
And while England’s pack responded emphatically by securing a penalty try – converted by Gloucester Rugby's Lloyd Evans before the replacement added a penalty to the tally – Ramos was again on target from the tee to stem the tide.
Lucas Meret then slotted an impressive drop goal late on to secure the result and ensure England will have to repeat their victory from last year’s final against the Baby Boks if they are to retain the title.