Unconvincing England make history
REPORT: A 70th minute converted try by substitute Ben Te'o helped England secure a nervy 19-16 victory over France at Twickenham on Saturday, to hand England their 15th consecutive victory.
You will have seen more exciting, more creative, more skilful matches than this, and you wonder why. England were instructed to be more daring, but they were not; France picked a team to run and did their best when Louis Picamoles was bashing ahead. It was a long, dull game.
Each side scored a try. There was nothing fluid or creative about either try - just bashing till defenders ran out.
At half-time they scored three kicks each. That they were penalty goals was not surprising as there had been as many penalties in the half as there had been in the entire Scotland-Ireland match. In addition, the scrums were not fun. The 16 scrums produced five penalties and four free kicks. That is not a springboard for daring or running rugby.
There were individuals who tried to give the match a kiss of life - wings Jonny May, Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa and most of all the two fullbacks - Scott Spedding of France and Mike Brown of England. But they were exceptions. It may, of course, have been the emphasis on bulk - 900 kg in the England pack and 934 kg in the French pack. They may have been too big for magic.
Victory may well be enough for England as they count their way into the record books, but surely they owe more than that to the Six Nations, the best presented rugby tournament in the world. The production of each match is of the highest quality and add to that the glory of its traditions of over 130 years.
France may well have dominated much of the match - using phases to make progress and they may well have wanted to run, for they did so with a promising attack down the right from the very first scrum. But they did not really look like scoring a try in the first half, not even when England had one of its wings clipped - May for a tip-tackle on Gaël Fickou, which earned him a yellow card - a pity because he was one of the brighter sparks on the field.
France scored first when flank Tom Woods was penalised at a tackle. England scored second when flank Damien Chouly was penalised a tackle, and it was 3-all after 9 minutes. Both kickers - Camille Lopez for France and Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly kicked at goal really well. Lopez and Farrell each had a close miss.
Spedding ran well in counterattack and then May was sent to the sin bin which resulted in Lopez's second penalty.
Daly got an overlap and kicked directly into touch. Maro Itoje tackled high and Woods attacked Baptiste Serin. Itoje's tackle gave Lopez a chance to make it 9-3 after 20 minutes but three minutes later Farrell made it 9-6.
Picamoles had a strong break but England had it covered and Nakaitaci was tackled into touch five metres from the line.
Ben Youngs and Daly did well on the blindside and when France were penalised at a scrum Daly kicked an angled penalty from 46 metres out. 9-9 after 37 minutes.
Just before half-time Spedding and Vakatawa countered well when, just outside the French 22, Spedding gave to Vakatawa who raced downfield and gave back to Spedding who raced into the English 22 where Elliot tackled him. France's attack fizzled out when they were penalised.
Early in the second half, Farrell hit the upright from a scrum penalty and France grabbed the opportunity to attack down the left. Rémi Lamerat gave to Vakatawa who raced down the left touchline. Hemmed in he kicked ahead, got the bouncing ball and kicked again but England survived.
In the second half England seemed keener to run with the ball - not quite daring but a bit more rugby-like.
Jonathan Joseph chipped into the French in-goal but Serin saved for France.
Farrell hesitated and broke and gave to Daly but Nakaitaci tackled him and footed out.
England attacked with several phases, bashing at the French defences, and when Lamerat was penalised five metres from his line, Farrell kicked the easy penalty, and England led 12-9 after 54 minutes.
Early in the half France had changed props to shore up their scrumming, a decision which worked. Those who came on were Rabah Slimani and Xavier Chiocci.
France attacked down the left with Fickou prominent and then, despite many defenders, Picamoles forced his side closer to the goal-line. From there, France went right and Sébastien Vahaamahina gave inside to flank Kévin Gourdon who leapt ahead and gave inside to Slimani who scored near the posts. France led 16-12 after 60 minutes.
One of the changes England made was to bring on Ben Te'o, a New Zealander who played rugby league in Australia before going to Worcester Warriors. He came in to flyhalf for his Six Nations debut and after many phases in which James Haskell was forcefully prominent, Te'o burst over for the try that won the match.
Man of the Match: The man who stood out head and shoulders above all the rest was Louis Picamoles of France whose power, determination and courage were a great ex maple to all others.
Moment of the Match: Ben Te'o's try.
Villain of the Match: Jonny May was more of an accident and it was not obvious why big Tom Woods picked on delicate Baptiste Serin and so nobody qualified for villainy.
Pens: Farrell 3, Daly
Pens: Lopez 3
Yellow card: Jonny May (England, foul play - dangerous tackle, 12)
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jack Nowell.
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Rabah Slimani, 18 Xavier Chiocci, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Yoann Huget, 23 Jean-Marc Doussain.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)