Wasps academy prospect Tom Willis appeared from the bench in the final quarter, but was unable to prevent England slipping to a 33-25 defeat at the hands of their French hosts in the under 20 World Cup final.
The 19-year-old was introduced at No.8 with 17 minutes remaining in front of a partisan 17,700 Beziers crowd who saw les bleus overturn the Six Nations defeat Steve Bates’ team inflicted in February to lift the world crown for a first time in the competition’s 11-year history.
France’s strong-scrummaging front row and the accurate boot of fly-half Louis Carbonei, who finished with 23 points, proved pivotal in a fiercely physical encounter.
England outscored their hosts by three tries to two, thanks to a Jordan Olowofela brace and a single from his Leicester teammate Joe Heyes, to which France responded through Cameron Woki and Adrien Seguret.
However, the red rose youngsters were under pressure at the hands of the home pack throughout, which yielded Carbonei a steady flow of penalty goals.
This meant England were unable to convert a sixth final appearance into a trophy, much to the disappointment of former Wasps scrum half turned under 20’s head coach Bates.
“It’s tough to take when you’ve got a group of players who have worked so hard together and developed so much over the season,” he said.
“I thought it was a really good performance. Obviously we had one or two issues in the scrum which the referee penalised us for but I think in all other departments we can take a lot of positives and pride from the way the guys played.
“Our plan was to try to exploit their lack of scoring in the last 20 minutes of the game and we were just not quite close enough to do that, as we scored some good tries in that last quarter.”
Bloemfontein was the venue 24 hours earlier and it was Willie le Roux who claimed the black-and-gold bragging rights through South Africa’s 23-12 win over England.
The Springbok No.15 drew a number of excellent reviews for his contribution to his country’s second test success, which also clinched them the three-match series prior to next weekend’s Cape Town finale.
The contest followed a similar pattern to the first test when the visitors struck twice, through Mike Brown and Jonny May, to build a 12-0 first quarter advantage.
But thereafter the home side gradually got on top and went into the interval a point to the good thanks to tries from the influential Duane Vermuelen plus a conversion and two penalties from fly half Handre Pollard.
Wasps powerhouse Nathan Hughes replaced the injured Billy Vunipola in England’s back-row at half-time, where he featured alongside his soon-to-be clubmate Brad Shields.
And the Hurricanes blindside flanker, who produced an impressive performance in his first international start, went close to claiming a third England try shortly before the hour mark.
However, Franco Mostert’s last-ditch defence saw him denied by the TMO, and with South Africa now eight points ahead thanks to an earlier penalty try award, this proved a pivotal moment.
Pollard made the home win secure with two more late penalties, after which Gloucester-bound Danny Cipriani made a late appearance from the bench shortly before Hughes was shown a yellow card.
Wasps club captain Joe Launchbury grafted hard in the second row for England, while Elliot Daly also played the full 80 minutes in a roaming backfield role.
Speaking after the match, head coach Eddie Jones said his team will leave no stone unturned as they attempt to end the summer tour on a winning note next Saturday.
"This team has got a lot of pride, we've won back-to-back Six Nations, equalled the record for wins," he said. "Now we're going through this bloody tough period. Everyone will fight hard to get out of this, you'll see at Cape Town.
"It's sticking together... understanding what's important in handling the emotions of the situation.
"To beat South African teams in South Africa, you've got to play well and play well consistently. If you don't control the ebb and flow the game gets away from you."