Six Nations 2014: Three talking points as France edge past England
Six Nations 2014: Joel Durston takes a look at three talking points as France are 26-24 winners against England
Rugby is a Fickou old game
Le crunch provided a great start to the Six Nations – a full-blooded game, with the pendulum swinging both ways and a nail-biting finish, which will be a dagger-in-the-heart to the England team and fans. After a shaky start which saw France’s pack on top and England concede two tries in the first 20 minutes, albeit with the help of two important bounces in France’s favour, the Red Rose gradually grew into the game, earning a well-worked and brilliantly finished try by Mike Brown to make the scores 16-8 to France at the break. The tables had completely turned in the second half, England’s forwards beginning to match, and often better, the French frontline, and the midfield finding gaps in Les Bleus’ defence. First, Owen Farrell converted a penalty, then Luther Burrell went over for a converted try. It was a fantastic move, which started with Chris Robshaw gathering from a scrum and giving to Farrell, who played a great delayed, dummy ball to Billy Vunipola, whose barnstorming run punched a hole in the defence. He held off a couple of French defenders long enough to find Burrell’s support run down the middle. Danny Care took the lead to 21-16 with a cleverly taken quick drop goal. The French, however, mounted a resistance and took the game to 21-19, before England extended the lead to five again. Then Gaël Fickou struck, in – testament to the English defence – the one real time France opened up the play in the second half. They shifted the ball wide quickly and Fickou showed pace and then skill in selling a dummy to the covering Alex Goode, who had another French runner to deal with. Critically, the move allowed Fickou to put down under the posts, so Maxine Medard did not have the pressure of a conversion out wide to win the game in front of 80,000 odd expectant Frenchman. France have the glory – and were not bad money for their win, they certainly took their chances well – but after the wounds of defeat heal, England will have much to be cheered by in this performance.
Stuart Lancaster’s selection was very bold. He handed debuts to Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell, 20, and Northampton Saints outside centre Luther Burrell, just a second cap to number wing George May (replaced after just eight minutes for the impressive Alex Goode, who went into full-back after a suspected broken nose) and just a fourth cap to inside centre Billy Twelvetrees. France in the Six Nations at the Stade de France – hardly in at the shallow end. There was also a baptism of fire for Stade Francais’ fly-half Jules Plisson, forming a nascent partnership with 22-year-old scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain, both of whom flanker Tom Wood vowed to target before the game. Indeed, some had nicknamed this game le creche, as, at 24.5, the average age of the England team was a full two years younger than the next youngest in the Six Nations, and France’s backline is just as young. There was a big welcome to international rugby for Nowell who, after having spilled the kick-off, got pile-drivered back five yards by two French players. However, after that, he came into the game, making a particular good break near the end, and fellow debutant Burrell was a typically physical presence, hitting a great line for his try. Twelvetrees, however, perhaps showed some inexperience in kicking the ball from the middle of the park when England had space and could have perhaps made an extra man tell if the ball was used cleverly. For France, Doussain and Plisson, if not setting the world alight, seemed to have formed a fairly assured partnership.
Handled with Care
Care had an impressive game, orchestrating England’s resurgence in the second half – a performance which could cement his place at scrum-half ahead of Lee Dickson (who came on after an hour) and Ben Youngs. There was especially quick-thinking and ambitiousness in his tap-and-go dart on the French 22, which nearly saw him bag a try and which led to Mike Brown going over in the corner. Also impressive in white were Brown, Courtney Laws – putting in some typically monstrous hits – and Vunipola, who smashed down a few French doors in a similar vein to his assist for Burrell’s try.