This was a classic Le Crunch, one of the very best. Both teams contributed to a non-stop, end-to-end Six Nations match.
England to their huge credit deservedly won 23-20 in the final minutes of the game, having dominated the final quarter. After mounting criticism for a disappointing Six Nations campaign to date, England came roaring back to life. Gone was the kick-chase bombardment, as both teams played with breathtaking intensity and pace. England was almost unrecognizable from the robotic and processed performances over the last 12 months.
As for France, they are undoubtedly back as a world force and were absolutely electric at times.
Charlie Inglefield dissects a memorable match.
Tom Curry and Maro Itoje lead the way
Not one player out of either side had a bad game. From England none more so than Tom Curry, who has been a shining beacon through the mediocrity of England’s 2021 season. There is rightful talk of Maro Itoje being the next England captain yet Tom Curry must be in the discussions.
He is first on the teamsheet and continues to get better on every outing. Remember he is still only 22 years old. Against France, he was a ‘muscular whirlwind’ in defence and attack. Curry was an absolute menace to the French, hassling and harrying the Tricolores to distraction. England’s player stocks during the 2021 Six Nations would have gone down in Warren Gatland’s selection estimations, but Tom Curry will be there without question.
As for Maro Itoje; it is a measure of how good this player is by seeing him be squeaky clean and yet doing his usual mayhem and chaos job on an excellent opposition. It was a huge test for Itoje and Charlie Ewels to combat their enormous counterparts, Paul Willemse and Romain Taofifénua but they came out on top.
Itoje and Curry will be starting for the British and Irish Lions on this form.
Regal Dupont and Jalibert
England did remarkably well to keep these two wonderfully talented French half-backs relatively quiet on Saturday. And yet Jalibert and Dupont, surely the best 9/10 going in world rugby right now still stamped their world-class attributes on Saturday. Dupont understandably gets the plaudits, illustrated with another brilliant try seconds after the kick-off. Jalibert was equally majestic – ghosting, sniping and gliding through seemingly non-existent gaps. His glorious hand for Damian Penaud’s try was pure rugby brilliance. The fact that Jalibert is keeping the outstanding Romain Ntamack on the bench speaks volumes about the Bordeaux fly-half.
England find their plan B in classic Six Nations match
There are many satisfying points to take for Eddie Jones and England. One of them is the fact that England played a different style to their traditional set-piece strategy. England was quick, direct, and decisive in the way they moved the ball. This allowed their runners an extra yard of space to work in and create opportunities to break through France’s much-improved defence.
Yes, it is a work in progress, particularly at the breakdown, but so refreshing after the recent turgid displays over the last 12 months. The discipline was better as well which meant they could establish a foothold in possession and territory.
If England can keep this kind of pace going they will match any side in world rugby. France will be a contender for the 2023 World Cup and England have turned them over. They should take great confidence from that.
Vunipola and Farrell back on form
Billy Vunipola is back which is a huge plus for England given the importance for Jones on having a destructive number 8. It does not and should not close the door on Sam Simmonds but it is great to see Vunipola have his mojo back. His work rate was terrific and crucially he is making those hard yards again.
The same can be said for the all-important 9/10/12 combinations which have been under fire in recent weeks. Owen Farrell was everywhere particularly in defence and slotted his goals with aplomb. There is still work to do for the England captain but this was a huge step in the right direction. George Ford commanded well from ten although his defence remains a concern.
Special mention to Ben Youngs. This was the young pup versus the old pup match-up, and Youngs more than held his own against Dupont. If you are an England fan, it was great to see Youngs piercing France’s defence and finding gaps to run through.
Fact: France is the real deal
France were understandably devastated at the final whistle. Their wait for a first Grand Slam since 2010 will go on but Wales beware. The French fully contributed to the wonders of this match. The sleight of hand amongst forwards and backs was a joy to behold. Both of their tries were brilliantly executed and if it wasn’t for some courageous defence then there would have been a few more to enjoy.
They are a far fitter and disciplined team under Fabien Galthie and Shaun Edwards. When they had possession, the French looked dangerous every time they moved the ball through the hands. We mentioned Dupont and Jalibert but the likes of Brice Dulin, Gael Fickou and Teddy Thomas were superb. Strangely the normally destructive Virimi Vakatawa was quiet.
The forwards matched England in all departments in a fascinating upfront battle. In a year or two, this French team will surely claim a Grand Slam.
Note: France are still yet to play the postponed match vs Scotland. That rescheduled game outcome could still determine the 2021 6 Nations champ, as France now focuses on hosting the table-topping Welsh side next weekend.
— Mike Pearce Rugby (@MPsportsdragon) March 13, 2021
In conclusion: England need to find their consistency
In the post-match analysis, Lawrence Dallaglio was correctly saying ‘why have we not seen this before’ from England. It also means that England has to back this performance up against Ireland next week. As described higher up in this article, they can now adapt to two different styles during a game.
This England team has copped a fair bit of criticism over the last few weeks and rightly so. They are far too talented to put in the disappointing displays we have seen thus far in this championship. Against France in this Six Nations match, Jones and his men fired up and played with fierce pace and intensity. That tactic is the way forward and if they can beat Ireland then the 2021 6 Nations campaign would have been salvaged.
For the moment, Eddie Jones and his England team should revel in a tremendous performance – they deserve it.
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