Six Nations 2013: Talking points as emphatic England beat France
Six Nations 2013: James Thompson looks at the talking points from England's 23-13 victory over France at Twickenham
England show strength in depth
There may be just 15 men who line-up at the start of a game, but a side’s true quality is measured by the contribution of those who come off the bench. Head coach Stuart Lancaster had made three changes to the side that beat Ireland with Manu Tuilagi, Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley returning, while the bench was full of experience, with the likes of Danny Care, Toby Flood and James Haskell. England were trailing at half-time due to a Wesley Fofana wonder try but it was the impact of the bench that swung the game back in their favour. Forwards Tom Youngs, Mako Vunipola and Haskell stabilised the English set-piece while backs Danny Care and Toby Flood ensured England managed the last 20 minutes with aplomb. It was a stark contrast to the Frane bench who only managed to disrupt any momentum they had as the coaches made pre-planned substitutions rather than anything based on the game. The removal of half backs Morgan Parra and Francois Trunh-Duc were particularly damaging but highlighted the effectiveness of England’s management and bench. The Red Rose haven’t had this sort of depth since they won the World Cup, and with 2015 home competition on the horizon, they are quietly assembling a squad full of young, exciting talent.
France implode, again
After their worst-ever start to a Six Nations tournament with two losses, France rang the changes for this much-anticipated fixture. Seven changes, one positional, were made to the starting line-up and initially it looked like head coach Philippe Saint-Andre had made the correct decision. With half-backs Parra and Trunh-Duc marshalling the forwards, Fofana reminding the management he’s a centre not a winger, along with huge performances from forwards Yannick Nyanga and Louis Picamoles, France looked a world-class side in the first half. They nullified England’s attacking threat and Fofana’s try, while a shocking lapse of concentration by English defence, was sublime. It begged the question of why this side, with all the players picked in their natural positions, wasn’t on show before. However, the old French eccentricities soon appeared. With a 10-9 half-time lead eradicated thanks to an Owen Farrell penalty, France opted to make a series of substitutions that could only have been pre-planned as the effective Trunh-Duc was replaced by the erractic Freddie Michalak. Michalak’s game management pales in comparison to that of the man he replaced and the French momentum was lost. All of their replacements took too long to get into the game and it showed as England grew increasingly stronger. France remain remarkably baffling but showed enough glimpses that they can easily challenge once more.
Manu beats Mathieu
It was billed as a heavyweight contest, centre’s Manu Tuilagi against Mathieu Bastareaud, the two powerhouses of European rugby going head-to-head. The crowd roared in anticipation each time either of them received the ball but there was only one clear victor at the end of the game. It’s not often that Tuilagi comes up against anyone bigger than him but he destroyed Bastareaud as he fully justified his recall by Lancaster. Tuilagi scored a rather fortuitous try but that aside his impact in the loose was significant. Every time he got the ball, he made sizeable yardage as the French struggled to contain him. He often muscled his way past Bastareaud as his superior conditioning came through. Tuilagi, who adopts a specialised training programme to avoid putting on muscle, is half a stone lighter than the Frenchman but that made a difference as his mobility was noticeably better. Bastareaud did put his centre partner Fofana through for his try but that aside he was fairly anonymous. He remained a threat but the blitz defence of Tuilagi’s centre partner Brad Barritt nullified him to great effect.
France expose English forwards
In their brilliant first half display, the French forwards were simply too strong for their English counterparts. England have largely had it their own way in this Six Nations but their scrum badly faltered as the French, led by prop Nicolas Mas, decimated them in the set piece. Questions remain over who is England’s first choice hooker with both Hartley and Youngs showing flashes of their ability but one of them needs to stake his claim for the No2 shirt. Similarly, Joe Marler and Vunipola are outstanding loose-head prop prospects but the solid scrummaging platform offered by the injured Alex Corbisiero is sorely missed. Once the French removed their first choice front row England began to get a foothold but they were given a warning as to how much further they need to go. In the loose both sets of back rows were largely outstanding. However, England’s selection of second row Lawes in the No6 position unfortunately didn’t come off as the Northampton man uncharacteristically missed a few tackles and his lack of playing time in his new position was exposed. Haskell brought a better balance to the pack for England and if Ben Morgan misses out again through injury then Lancaster may have to admit he made an error in his selection today.