France was brilliant. It was an awesome France masterclass exhibition from Fabien Galthie’s men and as for England…. they are truly at rock bottom. Or maybe not, as the old adage goes, ‘we did not realize that rock bottom had a basement’ – as they head to Dublin next week.
England were awful in all facets of their game barring the scrum where they won a few penalties. If Ireland hit their straps, it does not bear thinking about what may happen to England and the scoreline. France deserves the plaudits, they were magnificent from one to 22, making their English counterparts look pedestrian and predictable.
Charlie Inglefield sifts through the wreckage that was England on Saturday afternoon at Twickenham.
Shambolic performance from hosts England
Where to start with England? It was a shambles right from the opening whistle. England looked like they had not stepped off the bus – something not easily forgiven when you play at home. Steve Borthwick’s men looked lethargic and ponderous whereas poor Jack van Poortvliet had a nightmare first half. It is unfair to blame van Poortvliet, everyone in a white jumper had an off day. England’s back-row, so good against Wales was completely played off the park by their French opponents.
A special mention to Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt, and François Cros. They made a mockery of England’s breakdown and still had the energy to keep running through a flimsy England defence. More of France in a moment. England made a plethora of errors, penalties, and poor calls in the Twickenham gloom. It was a humiliation that will send alarm bells running around the halls of Twickenham.
France masterclass in 50+ point mauling
Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam up until the French clash were arguably England’s best forwards of the Championship. They had brought some much-needed physicality in the ruck and in defence. Against a regal French back row on Saturday afternoon, where Charles Ollivon was immense, they were blown off the pitch.
None of England’s forwards will look back fondly on their performances. They lost the collisions early against a physical French pack and were abysmal at the breakdown where Gregory Aldritt and Jonathan Danty reigned supreme.
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Experienced hands like Maro Itoje and Jamie George were again quiet and England’s forwards never got a foothold in the game. Charlie Inglefield said before this clash that Marcus Smith could only work his magic if he was given a platform to launch by his forwards – it didn’t happen. Why England were so lethargic up front remains a mystery and it is a number of concerns that Borthwick will have when he looks forward to Ireland next weekend.
France’s pack were magnificent. Julien Marchand was superb at hooker, Ollivon and Aldritt on a different level to their counterparts but it was Thibault Flament who deserves the headlines. It is hard to believe that Flament was playing in the half-backs for Loughborough’s fifth team not so long ago. At Twickenham Flament out-enthused and outplayed Maro Itoje and must have pushed Thomas Ramos very close for the man of the match award. Quite simply it was a France masterclass.
Smith had no support out wide
It would be wrong to signal out Marcus Smith to blame for England’s defeat. He had a tough afternoon but never gave up and was still England’s best-attacking option. Ultimately Smith’s selection will be viewed as a failure given the scoreline and how little England created outwide. Again.
Henry Slade made minimal impact for England before being hooked early in the second half. It has been said on a number of occasions that Slade has the talent to excel at this level but is too inconsistent. Saturday was one of those days and it remains to be seen whether Slade has played himself out of contention for Dublin. Smith was hassled and harried throughout but deserves credit for keeping going. He had no support out-wide given how Lawrence and Slade were being outplayed by Gael Fickou and Jonathan Danty. Owen Farrell did inject some energy into proceedings early in the second half, but it was too little too late.
Smith remains England’s best-attacking option. However, with such a conservative game plan to work off, it would be of no surprise if Borthwick retains Farrell and brings back George Ford.
England on a hiding to nothing in Dublin
It is the nightmare scenario for Steve Borthwick and his men as they now have to head to Dublin. There were no positives on a miserable day for the England team, fans, and management. Ireland at home are near nigh unbeatable. South Africa, Australia, France, New Zealand and pretty much everyone else have tried and have failed over the last couple of years.
In 2019, England produced one of their greatest performances when they thumped Ireland in the Six Nations opener. And it may be that Borthwick looks to one of the leaders on that day, Manu Tuilagi to come back into the line-up. Probably in place of Henry Slade depending on how Ollie Lawrence pulls up this week. Surely England has nothing to lose by giving some of the fringe players a go. Henry Arundell and Alex Mitchell should start on the wing and scrum-half respectively – although Danny Care (see below image) and Raffi Quirke should be considered as well.
Up front, Borthwick doesn’t have many options to choose from with such a short turnaround. Dave Ribbans’ all-around game could be suited in the second row. England needs Maro Itoje in Dublin and he could be shifted to the back row with Ben Earl also in contention. England needs an injection of enthusiasm and energy to stand a chance against Ireland.
There is no point in hiding it, England are on a hiding to nothing in Dublin. They have been utterly humiliated by a France masterclass. Even the most optimistic of England fans will realise that Ireland are head and shoulders better than Steve Borthwick’s men. Saturday was one of England rugby’s darkest days and it is not going to get any better in Dublin.
“Main photo graphic courtesy of France Rugby Facebook page“