You could be excused to thinking that England would enter their Six Nations match against France with a swagger, confidence and sure footed intensity. That they would re-create the sort of stifling performance they showed against the All Blacks in the World Cup 2019 semi-final.
Oh how disappointed you would be. Amidst the chest puffing pomposity of Eddie Jones the England players looked like amateurs frozen in the headlights of a resurgent French side. In fact, the media queen that is Eddie Jones only served as an embarrassing precursor to a performance strewn with errors, lethargy and a complete lack of the intensity he proposed. As Abraham Lincoln once said:
“The wise hen only cackles when the egg is laid”
I would add to that:
“When you are trying to batter down a brick wall with your head and it’s still standing after 30 minutes, it’s probably time to rethink your tactics”
The Eddie Jones Show Does England Rugby No Favours
Now for the realistic fan who tried to ignore Eddie Jones’ ridiculous utterances there was always a sense of trepidation in any visit to Paris. There is nothing the French like better than to put an English side to the sword. And boy how they did run them through.
Ok let’s rewind to 3pm on Sunday 2nd February before English hearts were pulverised. England should have had every reason to be positive, albeit with a few reservations. A side that had got to the World Cup final against all expectations (Especially mine!). A fit Kyle Sinkler back and ready to rampage, along with a mainly experienced back line. He ended up looking like he had a World Cup hangover, reticent to charge into collisions with memories of his horrible injury to the front of his mind.
But amoungst that team some enforced changes that would have set a few worries in (flow). No Billy Vunipola having broken his arm, again! So the main gain line breaker was gone. Of course Eddie would bring in another specialist no.8 to fill in. Like hell he would. Mistake number 1, although Tom Curry did a good job you felt that he would have been better on his usual flank. Underhill and Curry work best as a team and ran amok during the world cup. They look fresh on Sunday and still produced plenty of turnover ball which their England teammates then proceeded to squander.
I would have liked to have seen a proper number 8 like the dynamic Sam Simmonds who seems to have been unceremoniously dumped by EJ. At least he knows where to bind in the scrum without being advised by the referee. Bless Nigel Owens he is a star and a legend.
New Players But Old Tactics and Same Problems
Then an injured Anthony Watson who had surged back into form in the world cup. A great back three with Jonny May and Elliot Dailly. So what now. There was the promising youngster George Furbank. But what was the right combination? Chuck him in at full back in the French cauldron or keep the experienced and sure handed Daily there and move him to the wing. Well Eddie decided to chuck him in. It was probably reasonable seeing as France also fielded a debut player in Anthony Bouthier at full back too. He actually did okay thankfully, bar a couple of decisions down more to inexperience.
Unfortunately this also coloured England’s tactics. Bang it high and see if the new French lad flinched or dropped it. He didn’t. He didn’t drop it after the first such kick…or the tenth… or the…you get the picture. 30minutes into the game England were still kicking the ball away even thought it was ineffective. It has been a feature under Eddie that England don’t seem to be able to adapt when a plan doesn’t go to script. In Paris that didn’t change and the French loved it.
England vs France – The Game & England Players
It started okay per se, with England showing an intensity. But along with that was an inaccurate game and an inability to take chances. When Tom Curry snaffled a dodgy French line out throw he barreled forward. The support was absent and by the time it arrived the French defence under a new coach and England’s bane, Shaun Edwards were ready and smothered the stale, slow England attack.
In contrast France were incisive, creative and remarkably controlled. It showed up a problem I noticed at the World Cup but seemed to be ignored. England’s Rugby team miss a lot of tackles in most games (Take the All Blacks game as an aberration). France showed aggression as well as guile and dynamism. The tries by Rattez and Ollivons brace showed up every fault in the England side.
The late scores from individual brilliance by Johnny May massaged the score line to a vaguely respectable one. But it didn’t reflect the gap between the two sides.
Ben Youngs looked ponderous and perhaps he should get his eyes tested as the amount of overlaps he failed to take advantage of was shameful. Usually down on the French line. He continued to allow the forwards to boss him and pursue their white line fever. In the absence of better choices then I would prefer to see Willy Heinz. He impressed me in the World Cup and seemed to know that it’s the scrum half in charge of the forwards and not vice versa. He should be the pivot point of all attacks.
As for Farrell he look completely out of sorts. Dropping the ball at crucial moments and devoid of ideas and leadership.
The second row seemed remarkably ineffective, bar gaining parity in the scrum for a while. I think your need the dynamic Lawes back in there. In fact he is one of the few players who has continued to impress being an energetic carrier in the World Cup and against France.
The French Players Impress
So if you were expecting a flaky French side being wound up then I think you have misjudged the new breed and their new Defensive Coach Shaun Edwards. His influence was very clear.
A fired up side and a stifling defence that left England clueless. The French pack should have been made to pay for line out failures but instead they were accurate and ruthless around the field. Everytime Curry and Underhill ripped a turnover out they succeeded in turning it back over rapidly or snuffing out the weak English attack. Yes they didn’t have to deal with the Tuilagi factor when he retired with a groin strain after 15 minutes, but I think that is academic.
Typical of their defence was the goal line stand at the start of the second half to deny England a fast start. Knowing England would try and batter their way tough they sacrificed outside defence, trusting the remaining defenders and England’s pig headedness.
England will need to show much more energy and imagination against a Scottish side stinging from losing their match to Ireland. They should have done better and will take inspiration from the last match at Murrayfield. Eddie should keep his mouth shut in that lead up.
A frustrated England Fan