Gritty but predictable England scrape past France

England somehow found a way to scrape past a hugely improved France. For that England deserve huge credit. In truth, it was another disjointed and turgid contest against a French team who completely disregarded the tag of being ‘second string’. England could have had no complaints if France had won this game.

What is concerning for Eddie Jones is the continued lack of cohesion and ideas that came from England’s playmakers out wide. Owen Farrell had another quiet day out and it leaves Eddie Jones with more questions than answer heading into 2021. The fact that England looked heavy-legged and without their usual line speed compounded Jones’ reluctance to try out new players.

Owen Farrell’s form a concern

Most of England’s senior players were below par against France, none more so than the captain. Farrell looked off the pace and frankly, tired. The combination of Farrell and Ford is still not convincing for England. At his best Farrell is the all snarling, inspirational leader that England needs. At the moment he is struggling to justify his place in England’s starting line up.

He has so much credit in the bank and is world-class so this may be this is just a blip. England need options at fly-half as the Ford/Farrell domination of the jersey is beginning to crack. Jacob Umaga or Joe Simmonds can push their cases before the 2021 Six Nations comes along.

Kicking is stunting England’s flair

England created two clear cut chances in the second half with Elliot Daly put in space on the outside which should have resulted in Anthony Watson scoring. But, both passages were butchered by Daly’s early passes. It is easy to criticise as we scribes have no idea what is like in the heat of a test match.

However, these opportunities summed up where England’s current attacking strategy is at. England had enough possession to put the game to bed in the second half. It has been mentioned before but England has forgotten how to offload. We saw it in abundance from the likes of Kyle Sinckler in the lead up to the World Cup. It needs to come back.

Dan Robson entered the field with ten minutes to go and Joe Marchant was left on the bench. With England chasing the game it would have been great to see these two come on earlier. As it was England still managed to find a way to win. But such is the current reliance on territory and pressure, it is like England have locked up their attacking key.

Let’s be honest, it was just enough against a second-string French team. It is highly likely that in one of the matches in next year’s Six Nations that England will need to chase a game. At the moment England’s attackers are distinctly off-kilter.

Malins and Earl pushing to start

The positives for England were the impact of the bench. Max Malins has had a breakout season with Bristol and showed more positivity at full-back than Eliott Daly. Daly like Farrell has not been convincing over these last few weeks. Malins is deceptively quick and has that priceless ability to glide through gaps. Like Daly, he has versatility in his armoury and would not let England down at full-back.

All of the replacements made an impact, especially Ben Earl. A constant menace at the breakdown, he was a whirlwind of activity both in defence and attack. Together with Luke Cowan-Dickie, Earl gave England’s pack much needed energy in the last quarter.

Should England rest their stars?

Depending on where you sit, England could have rested the likes of Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly in this tournament. With Saracens, it is no clearer on when they will resume their season. It could be an idea to give some of those players a chance to adapt to the changes coming at Allianz Park.

This will be very difficult now that the 2021 Six Nations hones into view. This writer would like to see Joe Simmonds, Max Malins and Dan Robson, among others, given a chance to show off their credentials. The Gallagher Premiership is churning out some great talent at the moment, but it is whether Jones is willing to give some of them a try.

One could not help but think what a Sam Simmonds or an Alex Dombrandt could give to England off the bench. Billy Vunipola was one of England’s best against the French, imagine bringing on an impact player like Simmonds to follow him? The same could be said with someone like Joe Cokanasiga – these players offer a clear point of difference. At the moment England are one dimensional and lacking a plan B.

Itoje a class apart as England scrape past France

Maro Itoje was England’s star of the Autumn Nations Cup. He was below his normal exceptional standards against France but was still there at the end to turn over the French and give Farrell the kick to win the tournament. He has matured into a key leader for England and his discipline crucially has improved. As long as he stays clear of injury, Itoje is set to be one of England’s greats. Special mention to Sam Underhill as well. He has added to his attacking game and will be pushing for Lions’ honours.

Well done England, they have become a very difficult team to beat. There are questions to be asked about their style and attack but Jones won’t mind at all with another piece of silverware in the cabinet.

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