Volunteer writer, Sam Peters, gives his review of the England vs France Six Nations match.
Coming into this fixture both teams had points to prove. England, that their two losses so far were but blips for the normal contenders. For France, that this young team could live up to the hype that surrounds it, and dispel the classic cliches that normally accompany French rugby. The build-up to this match was different to classic games however, with France coming off a month break due to the virus outbreak. Was a lack of match fitness going to affect them? Neither team were favourites going into the game and this was almost a benefit to both teams, as they’ve thrived when they’ve had underdog status. France hadn’t won at Twickenham for 16 years, was this the game where this would change?
It took 66 seconds for the deadlock to be broken as Teddy Thomas put a lovely chip kick over the English defence after Anthony Watson was caught flatfooted and arguably the best performing scrum-half in the world, Antoine Dupont, was there to open the scoring after he managed to claw the ball in. It would’ve stunned Twickenham into silence, had there been anyone there to witness it. With the extras added, France looked to have disproved any claims they’d be sluggish following their absence from rugby.
It wouldn’t be long until England looked to answer back, a contestable kick that was won by Johnny May set up the hosts in an attacking position and Le Crunch was well and truly on. It would be Henry Slade who opened up the blue defensive wall with an electric turn of speed, before a few passes later the ball found its way into Anthony Watson who celebrated his 50th cap in style with a score in the corner. England would press their advantage with excellent territorial kicks, and they would force a penalty in France’s 22, which Owen Farrell would strike through the uprights to take the lead.
Farrell would add another penalty to take the score to 13-7 before Tom Curry managed to charge down a clearance kick which was pounced on by Mark Wilson. With England threatening the French line, Dupont came to French aid again, swatting the ball from Ben Young’s hand and forcing a turnover. England would concede a free kick from the ensuing scrum and France would receive a reprieve from the onslaught they’d been facing.
However, France would ride the coat tails of England’s lack of discipline once again, and with their third penalty advantage inside the 22, a chip over the onrushing defence was gathered by Matthieu Jalibert only to be knocked from his hands by Henry Slade, saving a try and forcing France to take the 3 points. Max Malins, eager to prove he deserved his start, struggled throughout the game with the occasional flash of brilliance, but in this instance it was his error that led to France’s try. What a try in was! A certain contender for try of the tournament. A quick throw from the hooker sent the ball over the lineout into the waiting French hands, and they left the English defence chasing their tails as the ball looped through the hands, before the flying Penaud would waltz into the corner sealing the first half in France’s favour 13-17.
After the fast and direct nature of the first half, the second half started off more restrained with both sides trading penalties before the England forwards began to build a slim advantage forcing France into making some changes to address the power imbalance. England stuck to their guns, not allowing themselves to be forced into a game of replacement chess. England’s forwards managed to continue their flawless streak of lineouts, but the scrums would prove an issue, with the new subs instantly making an impact for France.
With both sides trading blows the ball rarely made it into either sides 22m without the assistance of the boot. Yet with the game hotting up, more ill-discipline on England’s front gave France ample opportunities to attack the England half. Yet the defence stood strong and when France slipped up with 5 minutes to go, George Ford made sure to bury his kick deep in France’s 22. Jamie George fresh off the bench delivered a dart and the ensuing maul trundled up to the 5m line before being brought down and with the penalty advantage, England had some freedom to go for the line. In a redemption arc, it would be Maro Itoje who would take the ball and force his way over the line. Originally called held up, TMO Joy Neville overturned the call as “a little bit of ball” touched the turf much to the delight of Maro Itoje and England.
Chaos ensued after the restart as England go up in jubilation believing that Ben Earl had won a penalty, before despair set in as the assistant correctly identified that he had made the infringement leaving France with an attacking lineout with 30 seconds remaining. After securing the lineout, France hounded the English defence working their way into the 22 before the ball slipped out of French hands and into the grasp of the English. With seconds left, England secured possession and as soon as the clock went red, the ball was booted into touch securing a well-deserved victory.
England showed a new side of themselves, adapting more from the war of attrition we’re used to seeing them play, to a more attacking and quicker-paced style of play that Eddie Jones seems keen to implement before the coming World Cup. The errors were still there with 12 penalties conceded, but compared to recent games, they were in much less important scenarios so they went unnoticed at times. This England team were keen to show they could bounce back from adversity, and bounce back they did with their best performances since their win last year against Ireland.
For France, with a home World Cup looming they are in an excellent place. Yes they lost, and their dreams of a grand slam are dashed, but the heart and the style of French teams of old is there. Nevertheless, if they can win their next two games against Wales and Scotland they’ve still got a chance of winning the tournament. The fatigue set in in the final 10 minutes and they had a couple handling errors but this side is going places. They had England looking lost trying to follow the ball at times and had plenty of fire in the forwards and backs. This team is one to watch in the coming years!
Featured header image by Christos Alamaniotis.