For 51 minutes England inflicted what must have felt like death by a thousands kicks for France. Every time England put boot to ball it exposed the French defence and brought yet more points in what was a clinical application of a simple but highly effective game plan.
The French turned up at Twickenham with Yoann Huget, normally a wing, relocated to the full back role with the veteran Morgan Parra, the scrum half tasked with helping cover the vulnerable areas behind the first line of defence. What must have looked good on paper in the French team room during the week turned into a nightmare for those two players as captain Owen Farrell and his support staff ruthlessly exposed Huget’s positional play and Parra’s total lack of pace.
The key to the England kicking strategy was the speed of Jonny May, the fastest wing in the 15 man game, who was so far ahead of Parra when chasing the kick ahead for the first try it appeared the French scrum half had found an as yet unknown patch of quick sand on the pitch. It didn’t get any better for the French cover defence as they were dragged all over the place at the whim of Farrell & Co and with the forwards delivering quality ball at speed England were able to operate at a pace that France could not match or slow down. England’s set piece was equally impressive allowing France little chance to build momentum of their own.
The major question hanging over England heading into this match was could they replicate he intensity and physical commitment that had stunned the Irish. The answer for 51 minutes was a resounding “Yes”.
The only negative for England is that for the last 29 minutes they didn’t add to the 44 points that had been racked up with such authority against a French side that at least showed some heart in the final quarter. What they did not show was any kind of tactical nous or counter measures when under the cosh and this is an indictment on their coach Jacques Brunel, a man who is stumbling from one crisis to another. Eddie Jones, his opposite number, has in total contrast, masterminded victories over Ireland and France by giving his players a clear game plan and the confidence to deliver it with punishing physicality.
While Jones will be understandably concerned about the lack of points in the final quarter, what went before built on the good work delivered against Ireland and confirms that after last season’s Six Nations stagnation, his team is developing nicely.
The same cannot be said of the French who will be in England’s pool at the World Cup in Japan and appear to be desperately short of confidence and a viable game plan. The French finished with Romain Ntamack at No10 and Antoine Dupont in the scrum half role and this combination of youth and ambition is the obvious way forward. However, unlike England, the French are operating without a recognisable goal in mind. It was worrying to see replacements take the pitch and then join in a debate about where they were going to be playing.
That only served to highlight the differences between the teams and while England are developing an ability to deliver consistently impressive performances built on clear goals and tactical appreciation, the French are floundering once again. Now, it will be up to Warren Gatland to come up with viable counter measures to try and halt England in Cardiff.