England got off to a winning start to their Rugby World Cup preparations, defeating France 19-14 at Twickenham in the first QBE international, but there are still plenty of questions to be answered before England face Fiji in the World Cup opener in a month’s time.
England 19-14 France
There were plenty of positives for England on the night, the back three of May, Watson and Goode putting in some great moments. Watson showed great finishing to secure his brace of tries, with some exquisite footwork to beat Brice Dulin for his first. May was always a threat with his pace showing it to good effect to set up Watson’s second and also used it to prevent a try by touching down just ahead of Sofiane Guitoune. Alex Goode showed great vision throughout the game including a beautiful chip to Johnny May for his try.
The two debutant centres both had impressive games, with both showing they deserve at least another look before Stuart Lancaster names his final 31 man squad. League convert Sam Burgess, made some great driving runs and was very solid in defence making some huge hits. Henry Slade was very much the creator showing some great vision and excellent handling as he controlled the midfield in the first half.
England were at their best when the forwards provided a platform and quick ball for their backs, unfortunately this did not happen as often as Stuart Lancaster would have liked. The scrum was not as effective for England as it should have been losing two off their own ball in the first half, not putting the French under pressure often enough and often finding themselves under pressure in the second half.
The line out was also an area where England need to improve. With the suspension of Dylan Hartley the hookers were going to have a chance to play their way into the side but with the set pieces key, their throwing would need to be spot on. While Rob Webber was solid if unspectacular with his throwing, Luke Cowan-Dickie struggled to find his mark and this World Cup may come just too soon for the 22 year old.
Discipline will be a bit of a concern for Stuart Lancaster. Two yellow cards, for Sam Burgess and Calum Clark, could have easily been three as Henry Slade mistimed a challenge taking his man in the air. England cannot afford to go down to 14 men against the top sides, with New Zealand proving exactly what can be done scoring three tries while Australia had a man in the sin bin during their Bledisloe Cup match. The overall number of penalties (10) will also be of concern and Lancaster will be looking for an improvement in the return match next week and against Ireland on September 5th.
Stuart Lancaster will have plenty to ponder over the next few days, with several players pushing their claims. With the displays from Burgess and Slade, the pressure will be on players like Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell to put in performances in training and, should they be selected, against France in Paris. England will also be looking for a more commanding performance from their forwards to give their backs the platform, that if given they can clearly hurt teams from.
As the World Cup gets ever closer some of the players made good cases for their inclusion in either the squad or in some cases the first XV. However those that have started well will need to maintain their level of performance, and those that did not fare so well will have to raise their game, or face seeing others take their spot . Overall it was a positive start for England as they look to build momentum heading into the World Cup.