England pull off another tactical masterclass in 44-8 win as France fall apart

Michael Searles
England v France - Guinness Six Nations
Jonny May got England off to a flying start with a try after one minute (Source: Getty)

Going into this game with France, Eddie Jones warned England would have to win a battle against complacency following last week's triumph in Dublin against a team labelled the best in the world.

As his side ran out 44-8 winners here at Twickenham, there was evidence that England were heeding his advice: they thrashed Les Bleus and took one step closer to winning a Grand Slam that would establish them as the team to beat at the World Cup this year.

Jones has got England coming out the blocks hard and fast in recent Tests and it was no different against France as they took the lead within a minute, Jonny May scoring his first of three tries.

Against Ireland it took a minute and a half and against New Zealand in November they took the lead after just two minutes. England have in fact scored a try inside four minutes in eight of their last 14 Tests.

Finding the space

It’s a tactic paying dividends, handing England not just the lead but also momentum and confidence, while dealing a psychological blow to their opponents – particularly in the case of this frail French side.

One method England have used to get on the front foot early is to kick in behind the opponents and put their wingers and full-back under pressure. It was a tactic that England used heavily against France as they exploited the backs’ inability to deal with facing their own touchline.

Just as Ireland struggled against England with a makeshift full-back in Robbie Henshaw, France also – and perhaps strangely following last week’s display – deployed an unfamiliar full-back in Yoann Huget to replace the injured Maxime Medard rather than use Thomas Ramos, who regularly plays in the position for Toulouse.

Piling on the pressure

England’s kicks in behind put Huget under heavy pressure in the first half before he was removed for failing a head injury assessment at half-time, while the hosts constantly found space in behind Damian Penaud on the wing, although the 22-year-old was in fact one of their better players.

Five of England's six tries came from this tactic in another masterclass from Jones and his coaching team, and it wasn’t just Owen Farrell supplying the through-balls; Elliot Daly, Ben Youngs and even Chris Ashton all provided pivotal kicks.

England had all but wrapped up the match by half-time, leading 30-8 and having already claimed a bonus point after May’s hat-trick and one from Henry Slade, leaving France with little to play for in a second half in which they failed to register a single point.

It was a performance symptomatic of a wider problem in French rugby as the crisis deepens following another Six Nations defeat.

France face fallout

Les Bleus looked short on confidence, organisation and cohesion for the second week running and after surrendering a 16-0 lead at half-time to Wales last week, looked consigned to losing from the off yesterday.

They have not won at Twickenham since 2005, lost 10 of their last 13 clashes with England, and have only finished in the top three at the Six Nations once in the last eight years. It looks unlikely they will buck that trend this year.

They made a number of changes following the calamity against Wales, including a totally different midfield partnership that saw Mathieu Bastareaud recalled.

Geoffrey Doumayrou and Gael Fickou also came in, with Huget moved to full-back, along with several changes in the forwards. It appears that head coach Jacques Brunel is not sure what his best team looks like, or perhaps even what their best positions are.

One bright spark in a bleak afternoon for France was Penaud, who burst through the gain line on multiple occasions during the first half and finished off a lovely try to bring his side some hope, even if it was quickly doused.

It will do little to appease French fans though, who booed head coach Brunel when his face appeared on the screens at Twickenham. He will have a number of questions to answer before they host Scotland in two weeks.

For England, the signs are positive, but they will have to go to Wales in the next round and do it all again against the only other unbeaten side in what could prove an early Six Nations decider.