Tigers Academy trio George Martin (England), James Whitcombe (England) and Sam Costelow (Wales) tasted defeat on the opening day of the Under-18s Aon International Series in South Africa with both nations beaten in the opening round of fixtures.
England U18s were downed 41-21 by France, while the Welsh Under-18s conceded an injury time try to see South Africa Schools record a 43-40 victory at Boland Landbou.
The young English outfit trailed 21-0 at the half-time break and, thanks to early tries in the second stanza including one to Tigers lock Martin, found their way back in to the match. However the French were able to not only hold on to their lead but add to it in the second half and raced away with the game to finish 20 points ahead.
Speaking after the final whistle, England coach Jim Mallinder said: "We were physically up against it, they were the much bigger team.
"We struggled with the tempo to begin with, but what was pleasing was that we stuck with it. We talked at half time about trying to move it wide and it was fantastic to see the team improve in the second half. The replacements came on and made a massive impact and it was great to win the second half.
"We want to keep improving, we've set a benchmark in that second half, and I expect to see a big improvement against Wales in a few days time."
In the only other fixture of the four-nation tournament, Wales were up against a South Africa Schools side with a vocal crowd on their side at home.
Tigers academy fly-half Costelow, who is educated at Oakham School, helped the Welsh side to an early lead with his accurate goal kicking to see them lead 14-10 after 25 minutes. However, in a half that saw the lead change four times before the break, the home side fought their way back into the match and took a one-point, 21-20 lead in to the second half.
From there, both sides again traded blows on the pitch and scoreboard before a try in the dying stages to Wales saw them take the lead back with just minutes remaining on the clock.
However, heartbreak occurred for the visitors after the full-time siren as a not straight throw at the lineout gifted the ball back to South Africa and, after six energy-sapping phases, replacement scrum-half Jurich Claasens sniped through a gap and went all the way to win it at the death.
The conversion was good to seal a thrilling 43-40 result for the home side with Costelow finishing the match with four conversions.