The good and the bad from England’s opening Six Nations game against France at Twickenham
So England march on. For much of this game it looked as though England’s 14-match winning run was about to come to an end, the home side struggling to match France’s intensity as they kicked off their Six Nations defence, but a late Ben Te’o try carried Eddie Jones’s unbeaten record into 2017.
It was far from perfect but England’s celebrations and the Twickenham roar on the final whistle demonstrated the meaning of this 15th straight Test win – a record for an England team. Next up it’s Wales in Cardiff, but here’s a look at the good and the bad from game one…
Pass and move – People often bemoan the absence of French flair in the modern game and while there wasn’t quite the magic on show that fans witnessed in the Eighties and Nineties, les Bleus did at least show flashes of ambition – far more than in recent years. They spread the ball right and left, Virimi Vakatawa and Noa Nakaitaci both frequently involved and Scott Spedding hitting some great lines. The quick passing and interplay between forwards and backs created the first try of the game for Rabah Slimani.
England looked short of ideas for much of the first half, relying on Mike Brown to run the ball back from long kicks, but they demonstrated more creativity after the break. George Ford and Owen Farrell started to link up in the manner you would expect of two playmakers, putting together loops and switches in midfield. It was a delayed pass from Ford to Farrell that allowed the latter to send Elliot Daly on his way down the wing, but a foot in touch meant the TMO rightly ruled ‘no try’ in that instance.
In the end, though, the decisive Ben Te’o score came from more straightforward means. The forwards continued to take the ball at short bursts around the five-metre line until Farrell spotted space to the left and launched the replacement centre through the gap.
Defensive sets – France were off the line extremely quickly in defence, giving England little room to manoeuvre when they did have possession. They had more success at the collisions than their English counterparts, getting over the gain-line and slowing down the hosts’ ball. The pressure applied when they didn’t have the ball rattled England, who are perhaps unused to being challenged by such physicality.
Power surges – They may play in completely different positions but full-back Scott Spedding and No 8 Louis Picamoles and they are a very similar body shape – big and broad. And they made that show in the first 40 minutes against England.
Spedding made a number of notable surges from the back of the field, finding a lot of holes in England’s defence and creating havoc as he clocked up the metres in the opposition half. Man of the Match Picamoles’s contributions were more in tight quarters than open spaces, but the impact was nevertheless similar. He is so difficult for defenders to stop, particularly from close range, that he, too, had the men in white at sixes and sevens.
Smart subs – Eddie Jones waited a while to introduce replacements but when he did, they made a big difference. James Haskell and Danny Care arrived midway through the second period and added a fresh impetus to England’s attack, bringing pace and power, while within a few minutes of the arrival of Ben Te’o and Jack Nowell they had scored their only try of the game. Shrewd substitutions from the home side allowed them to finish strongly and, most importantly, win this game.
Slow starters – The key message from Eddie Jones this week was the importance of a good start, getting off the mark quickly and making an impression as they begin their Grand Slam defence. It seems that, for once, Jones’s message didn’t get through to his players, as they looked below par for much of the first half at Twickenham.
In the first 25 minutes alone they missed seven tackles and failed to create any meaningful attacks, only getting on the scoreboard when France infringed. It was a marked change from the dominance shown in 2016, perhaps a sign of how important those injured absentees up front are to this England team.
Misfiring mauls – Neither France nor England managed to get their driving maul going, but it was England’s attempts that were significantly fruitless. There weren’t that many lineouts in the first half, but when England did try to get their maul moving they tended to go round in a circle rather than in a forward direction. Little wonder they started to opt for quick ball off the top.
In the second half, France couldn’t get their maul started from a lineout five metres from their own line and conceded the turnover. Such an effective weapon for both teams in the past, it’s a shame to see the maul fail so badly in this match.
126 – Metres made by Scott Spedding and Virimi Vakatawa. No England player hit three figures, Mike Brown in top spot with 97.
8 – Lineouts won by Maro Itoje, twice as many as France’s top catcher Damian Chouly.
24 – Defenders beaten by France compared to 13 by England. They also made twice as many line breaks, ten to five.
11 – Turnovers won by England compared to five by France.
England: M Brown; J May, J Joseph (J Nowell 69), O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford (B Te’o 69), B Youngs (D Care 66); J Marler (M Mullan 66), D Hartley (captain, J George 55), D Cole, J Launchbury (J Haskell 64), C Lawes, M Itoje, T Wood, N Hughes.
Try: Te’o. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 3, Daly.
Sin-bin: May 12min.
France: S Spedding; N Nakaitaci, R Lamerat, G Fickou (Y Huget 72), V Vakatawa; C Lopez (A Iturria 72), B Serin (M Machenaud 57); C Baille (R Slimani 46), G Guirado (captain, C Maynadier 72), U Atonio (X Chiocci 46), S Vahaamahina (JM Doussain 72), Y Maestri, D Chouly (L Goujon 64), K Gourdon, L Picamoles.
Try: Slimani. Con: Lopez. Pens: Lopez 3.
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