The key talking points from France’s 22-16 win over England in the 2018 Six Nations
France v England Talking Points from Paris
If England needed a reminder of what was at stake in this game, they need only have looked at what was awaiting them at the end of the tunnel as they ran out to face France – the Six Nations trophy.
The prize they have lifted for the past two years was glinting on its display stand as the teams took to the Stade de France pitch – but England will not be lifting it again in 2018 after this 22-16 defeat.
Their dreams of making history by becoming the first team to win the championship for three successive seasons are over. Instead, they have lost two away games in the Six Nations for the first time since 2009 and this will be their worst Six Nations since 2010 whatever happens next weekend.
In truth, they looked nothing like champions in this performance. It may have been a tense encounter but it was lacking in quality from either side, particularly in attack.
England needed four tries to keep their title hopes alive following Ireland’s bonus-point win in Dublin, but they seemed content to kick penalties in the first half and tellingly didn’t cross the whitewash until the 74th minute.
Related: Six Nations bonus points explained
France were far from outstanding themselves but did cause England problems at the breakdown and punished the visitors’ ill-discipline.
The decisive blow came in the 47th minute when Francois Trinh-Duc sent a cross-field kick towards Remy Grosso. Jonny May beat him to the ball but only served to knock it into Benjamin Fall’s hands and Anthony Watson’s subsequent tackle was rightly ruled high by the TMO, resulting in a penalty try as well as a yellow card for the England full-back.
Ireland’s lead in the table is now insurmountable, they are champions, and while England can still stop their Grand Slam bid at Twickenham on Saturday, this Six Nations campaign has fallen decidedly short of red-rose expectations.
Here are the key talking points from Paris…
Tries – or the lack thereof
Ireland’s bonus-point win over Scotland in Dublin meant England went into this game knowing they had to not only win but score four tries themselves to keep their title hopes alive.
Related: Ireland 28-8 Scotland match report
This would be no easy task. In fact, England had not scored four tries against France in France since 1992 – and even one of those was a penalty try. So they were looking to achieve something they had never done before in the professional era.
Under Eddie Jones, they have only ever scored four tries in a Six Nations game in Twickenham or Rome – another statistic against them.
And the surprising thing in this match was the fact England didn’t seem to grasp the importance of scoring those four tries. It’s all very well building a lead by kicking penalties, but when a simple win is not enough to keep you in contention for the trophy, would it not be better to play an all-out attacking game? Would they rather settle for a win than risk defeat in the pursuit of four tries? In the end they achieved neither a win nor scored four tries.
England had plenty of possession in the first 40 minutes but the dearth 0f creativity was stark. Too often they were spreading the ball left and right with little territory gained going forward.
The runners close to the ruck were easy to read whereas the likes of Jonny May and Anthony Watson ran into contact more often than space – and those around showed little awareness of what their team-mates were going to do and there were no players in support to take a pass should one have been offered.
There appeared to be little cohesion or understanding about what they were trying to do or how they were planning to break down the blue wall in front of them. So much for the “pace” of this back three – Watson, May and Elliot Daly – bringing a new spark to the England attack. Instead, they looked bereft of ideas, lacking direction and fluency.
It was only when play started to break up in the closing minutes that England finally made it across the French line. After several phases in the France 22, Daly received the ball on the touchline and delivered an accurate tap back inside for May to run in from close range.
Even with a couple of five-metre lineouts once the clock had ticked past 80 minutes, England couldn’t add to that tally.
Breakdown in discipline
England’s ill-discipline did not help their try-seeking cause. As at Murrayfield in the Calcutta Cup, the breakdown was a big problem area.
England tend to stand off at the contact area, committing few numbers, and this allowed France to slow down their ball, if not win a penalty because the Englishman was gripping tightly to the ball when a Frenchman was trying to get his mitts on it.
So England failed to get any rhythm in attack as they either couldn’t get quick ruck ball or coughed up possession completely (as well as territory or points on the scoreboard) by conceding penalties.
This ‘standing off’ policy at the contact area also meant they did little to disrupt France at the breakdown and it was noticeable that the hosts were able to get quicker ball to their back-line and build phases. This really came to the fore in the second period and France could have scored another try or two.
France won nine turnovers to England’s three and Eddie Jones admitted afterwards: “We were beaten at the breakdown and did not have momentum.”
The penalty counts in this championship will be a growing concern for Jones and his coaching team – and they can’t afford to be so profligate against Ireland next week. It was 16 here in Paris – the most they have conceded under Jones.
Interestingly, it is the same trio of match officials – Jaco Peyper, Marius van der Westhuizen and Angus Gardner – in charge of the game at Twickenham, Gardner replacing Peyper with the whistle. Whether that knowledge of how the southern hemisphere triumvirate interpret things will help, it’s difficult to know.
But England’s failure to adapt to situations in-game – whether here or at Murrayfield, in defence or attack – does serious damage to their World Cup credentials. They need to be able to think on their feet, not work to a constrained game plan, and we have seen little to show they are capable of that in this championship.
Maybe these flaws have been there for a while but have been masked by their winning record under Jones. Either way, they are there for all to see now.
Jones is describing this as a “learning period” – and they will need to learn fast with Ireland arriving at Twickenham next Saturday.
All the talk beforehand was of heavy rain in Paris and how the skills of the two teams would be put under pressure by the wet conditions. As it transpired, the rain stayed away from Stade de France and while the ground was damp it was far better than predicted.
Not that these conditions resulted in any flair from either side – but it did mean the supporters were in good spirits given the high temperatures. How refreshing to hear the Stade de France booming with noise given the silence or jeers that have more often punctuated the air in recent years.
What would have left a dark cloud for some supporters, though, were the €35 fines being handed out at the nearest stations to the stadium. The public transport carnet tickets on offer in Paris are often used by fans to get to Stade de France, but these are now only valid in central Paris and many fans got caught out by ticket inspectors by the exit gates.
More signage, especially in English, at the main stations explaining that carnet tickets would not be valid to reach the stadium would have helped to avoid the confusion many fans faced.
We recognise the importance of people paying the correct fare but is such a hefty fine necessary? Surely fans could just pay the difference in the price of the two tickets? Instead, many supporters will have endured a far more expensive day out than expected.
France – Try: Penalty try. Pens: Machenaud 4, Beauxis.
England – Try: May. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 2, Daly.
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