TWICKENHAM, United Kingdom (AFP) - A try by replacement back Ben Te'o nine minutes from time saw England beat France 19-16 on Saturday (Feb 4) as they launched their Six Nations title defence with a national record 15th successive victory.
A lacklustre England were in trouble at 16-12 behind after France replacement Rabah Slimani scored the game's first try on the hour mark at Twickenham.
France, edged out by Australia and world champions New Zealand in November, could not hold on once again, with Teo's 71st-minute try, converted by Owen Farrell, proving decisive.
Victory saw this England side surpass the previous national best of 14 wins in a row they had shared with the 2002-03 side that went on to win the 2003 World Cup.
A scrappy and try-less first half which saw England wing Jonny May sin-binned for a dangerous tackle ended all square at 9-9.
France fly-half Camille Lopez's three successful penalties were cancelled out by two from England centre Owen Farrell and a huge 48-metre kick by Elliot Daly.
Another Farrell penalty made it 12-9 before the tries arrived in the closing stages to preserve Australian coach Eddie Jones's perfect record as England boss.
Injuries saw Jones reshape England's pack.
Maro Itoje, best known as a lock, made his first Test start in the back-row after blindside flanker and former England captain Chris Robshaw was ruled out of the entire Six Nations with a shoulder injury With George Kruis, Itoje's lock partner at both Saracens and England, out with a knee problem, Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury started in the second row.
Prop Joe Marler - crediting gallons of milk for a quicker than expected retutn from from a fractured leg - replaced the injured Mako Vunipola.
France were quick out of the blocks in front of the packed Twickenham crowd, with Fiji-born wing Virimi Vakatawa launching an attack.
Lopez then kicked a penalty before Farrell responded in kind.
England were a man down in the 13th minute. With World Rugby having announced a crackdown on dangerous tackles, May was sent to the sin-bin by Australian referee Angus Gardner for 'lifting' France centre Gael Fickou.
Lopez kicked the penalty and added another in the 20th minute to make it 9-3.
Farrell then cut the deficit with his second penalty after May had returned.
The game then started to open up with France's South Africa-born fullback Scott Spedding launching wing Noa Nakataici, like Vakatawa originally from Fiji, down the right only for England scrum-half Ben Youngs to counter-attack on the break.
Lopez missed a long-range kick but Daly's mammoth effort drew England level at 9-9.
There was still time left in the half for France to test England's defence as Vakatawa and Spedding combined before Lopez switched play with a clever cross-kick.
But May held up the onrushing French backs and Itoje's good breakdown work secured a relieving penalty.
England's scrum won a penalty early in the second half but Farrell's effort came back off the post.
England centre Jonathan Joseph then chipped over the defence but he was beaten to the touchdown by talented France scrum-half Baptiste Serin.
Minutes later, England came even closer to a try but Nakaitaci forced Daly into touch.
Sustained England pressure resulted in a simple penalty chance inside the 22 and Farrell made no mistake.
France, however, continued to threaten and the visitors scored a deserved try when, after a jinking run by Lopez, flanker Kevin Gourdon sent in Slimani for a score by the posts.
Lopez converted and France led by four points.
But it was front row Slimani who gave away a scrum penalty that set up an England line-out inside France's 22.
Itoje won the set-piece but Farrell slipped as the ball went through the backs.
England retained their composure and, later in the move, Farrell's pass found Te'o - who had only been on the field a few minutes as one of several replacements sent on by Jones - and he went in from close range on the over-lap.
Farrell converted and England saw out the closing minutes.