England won their first Grand Slam in 13 years as they outmuscled and outscored an obdurate French side who put in their best performance of the Championship
England won their first Grand Slam in 13 years in a raucous atmosphere at the Stade de France. In a game where England could never quite relax, it was not until Owen Farrell’s 72nd and 78th minute penalties that they were able to breathe a little easier. England had doused French fires early on with a controlled, opportunistic opening 20 minutes. After just 11 minutes Danny Care darted over the line from distance, and 10 minutes later, after some multiple phases deep in the French half, Dan Cole used his 19st frame to power over from close range, with a whiff of obstruction waved away by Nigel Owens.
With Maxime Machenaud doing a passable impression of a dead-eye kicker for France, they were only 17-12 down at the break. In the second-half, England gave away a succession of penalties as France continued to keep within a converted score, even though Anthony Watson crossed for England’s third try after 57 minutes. Hartley left on a stretcher in the game’s final quarter after an accidental knee in the head, but even though France continued to prod, and probe, England were to dig in, show heart and expunge some of the hurt from the World Cup, only five months ago. It was a night every squad member will remember for quite some time.
Selection. Selection. Selection
Eddie Jones is paid the big bucks to make the big decisions and he made a decisive choice by switching scrum-halves for the Grand Slam encounter. His choice was vindicated after 11 minutes when Care showed his vision and speed to sprint in from 40 metres, after England had shown some early nerves. In the second-half, it was Youngs who came on to make the difference, as he put a delicious grubber in behind the French defence for Watson to score. Jones had after all, joked that he would come on to win the Grand Slam. Prophetic.
France find a kicker
France have had a succession of kickers whom never exuded much confidence; namely Camille Lopez, Freddie Michalak, Remi Tales and latterly Jules Plisson. However, in Maxime Machenaud, they appear to have found a consistent kicker, in the mould of Morgan Parra and Dimitri Yachvili, two of the better French kickers of the last decade. The Racing Metro No 9 kicked seven penalties out of seven to keep the pressure on England. Bravo, Maxime!
Everybody needs a Billy Vunipola dump truck in their team
Billy Vunipola has carried England, literally, all tournament, as well as a fair few opposition defenders. Eddie Jones has managed him well since becoming coach, showering him with praise, and the big Saracen has responded with a series of powerful performances. Against France, his muscular carries were instrumental to England getting front-foot ball – he carried second furthest for England with 70m – and his burst up the guts of the French defence led to Watson’s try. Another huge hit on Goujon in the first-half showed his defensive prowess. A surety to be battling it out with Taulupe Faletau for the Lions shirt next summer. Magnnificent.
They have gone through the difficult transition from witnessing World Cup heartache to triumphant champs in the last five months, but England’s support never wavered. From the invasion by train, plane and car, the streets of St-Germain-des-Pres were awash with England fans dressed as knights, bowmen, warlocks and anything else medieval. It was all in good humour and Swing Low was heard loudly around Paris’ most fashionable quarter…and that was hours before the secured the Grand Slam. There will be a few sore heads in the morning but they will not care a jot.
France, improved, but still a blunt weapon in attack
Les Bleus had a number of exciting runnners, with Scott Spedding and Virimi Vakatawa making a number of searing breaks from deep but when they got into the England half, they didn’t have the composure to make an unusualy frayed England defence pay. Guy Noves has said this first tournament is something of an experiment, but another fourth placed finish is not good enough for a country with their playing resources.
England penalty count
Eddie Jones would have been pulling whatever hair he has left out after 50 minutes, with England’s discipline leaving a lot to be desired. Hartley, Itoje and Nowell were just a few to be pinged for various transgressions. That they conceded nearly twice as many penalties as France was telling, giving away 14 penalties to France’s eight. Against a better side, England could have been punished.
England had the better of the possession with 60 per cent compared to France’s 40 per cent.
France carried further, with 508 metres run compared to 378 by England
France made 109 tackles to England’s 115. England missed 25 tackles and France 19.
Scott Spedding carried furthers with 129m run, followed closely by Virimi Vakatawa with 128m. England’s best was Mike Brown with 93.
James Haskell topped the tackle count for England with 15, followed closely by George Kruis and Owen Farrell with 13. Loann Goujon (11) and Bernard Le Roux (10) topped the French tackle count
France: Scott Spedding, Wesley Fofana, Gael Fickou, Maxime Mermoz (Maxime Medard, 69), Virimi Vakatawa, Francois Trinh-Duc (Jules Plisson, 13), Maxime Machenaud (Sebastien Bezy, 75); Jefferson Poirot (Uini Atonio, 57), Guilhem Guirado (c) (Camille Chat, 66), Rabah Slimani (Xavier Chiocci, 57), Alexandre Flanquart (Paul Jedrasiak, 57), Yoann Maestri, Damien Chouly, Bernard Le Roux, Loann Goujon (Wenceslas Lauret, 69)
England: Mike Brown, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jack Nowell, George Ford, Danny Care (Ben Youngs 43); Mako Vunipola (Joe Marler, 40), Dylan Hartley (c) Luke Cowan-Dickie, 67) Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Chris Robshaw (Jack Clifford, 75), James Haskell, Billy Vunipola
Unused reps: Kieran Brookes, Joe Launchbury, Manu Tuilagi, Elliot Daly
Pens: Mahenaud (7)
Tries: Danny Care, Dan Cole, Anthony Watson
Pens: Farrell (6)
Cons: Farrell (2)
Yellow card: Xavier Chiocci
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Man of the Match:
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