England were beaten 33-25 by hosts France in the final of the World Rugby U20 Championship.
Steve Bates’ side trailed 14-8 at the break with France scoring a try through Cameron Woki and Louis Carbonel contributing nine points.
A Marcus Smith penalty and Jordan Olowofela’s try took them to within six points at half-time.
And despite a further Smith penalty, Joe Heyes’ try as well as Olowofela’s second, Carbonel kicked four penalties and Adrien Seguret touched down to give France their first ever Under 20 world title.
England were appearing in their sixth-consecutive World Rugby U20 Championship final but after victories in 2013, 2014 and 2016 they were not able to add to that.
They had progressed to the final in Beziers courtesy of three bonus-point victories in their pool, as well as a narrow 32-31 win over South Africa.
At a sold out Stade de la Méditerranée, Carbonel sent over an early penalty and a second midway through the half but Smith had England’s first points moments later.
France then had their first try, Woki showing great agility to squeeze over in the corner.
Smith missed a chance to reduce the deficit as Carbonel stretched France’s lead to 14-3 just before the break but Olowofela went over in the corner for a try in stoppage time.
Three Carbonel penalties, one from halfway, gave France a 23-8 lead inside the hour before Smith kicked a second penalty.
The boot of Carbonel continued to frustrate England with the fly half sending over a seventh penalty and despite Heyes’ powerful try from close range, France replacement Seguret gathered a clever grubber kick to dot down and secure the win.
England would have the final score of the game when Olowofela hit an excellent line to go over, and James Grayson slotted a second conversion, but it would be an eight point defeat for Steve Bates’ side.
Head coach Steve 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.
“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 and 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.
“I hope the past three weeks have been an enjoyable and important experience for the players and will play a crucial part in their development.”
15. Tom Parton (London Irish), 14. Gabriel Ibitoye (Harlequins), 13. Fraser Dingwall (Northampton Saints), 12. Tom Hardwick (Leicester Tigers), 11. Jordan Olowofela (Leicester Tigers), 10. Marcus Smith (Harlequins), 9. Ben White (Leicester Tigers), 1. Alex Seville (Gloucester Rugby), 2. Henry Walker (Gloucester Rugby), 3. Ehren Painter (Northampton Saints), 4. Joel Kpoku (Saracens), 5. James Scott (Worcester Warriors), 6. Ted Hill (Worcester Warriors), 7. Ben Curry (c) (Sale Sharks), 8. Josh Basham (London Irish).
16. Beck Cutting (Worcester Warriors), 17. Ciaran Knight (Gloucester Rugby), 18. Joe Heyes (Leicester Tigers), 19. Tom Willis (Wasps), 20. Aaron Hinkley (Gloucester Rugby), 21. Rory Brand (London Irish), 22. James Grayson (Northampton Saints), 23. Will Butler (Worcester Warriors).
England U20 fixtures and results:
Pool B: England 39-18 Argentina
Pool B: England 43-5 Italy
Pool B: England 35-10 Scotland
Semi-final: England 32-31 South Africa
Finals day: England 25-33 France
England: Tries – Olowofela 2, Heyes Cons – Grayson 2 Pens – Smith 2
France: Tries – Woki, Seguret Cons – Carbonel Pens – Carbonel 7