After England’s disappointing defeat in Paris this weekend at the hands of a resurgent French side, we take a look at what has been learnt from the game…
1. It’s important not to panic…just yet
Let’s face it, England’s performance in Paris was pretty shocking and will have sent alarm bells ringing for fans and coaches alike. That being said, it was the first time many of the team have player a competitive game in several months, or in some cases longer. There is also the fact that there may still be some fatigue issues thanks to the beasting they have had in training. It’s therefore important not to make rash changes because of one game.
2. The hooker situation is looking pretty desperate
The absence of Dylan Hartley was keenly felt once more in the Stade de France as Tom Youngs made his mark in the loose, but continually failed to hit his targets in the line out. His replacement Jamie George faired considerably better but his lack of international experience must be a concern. There now needs to be a major focus on the line out as a normally stable platform for England completely failed to materialise.
3. The breakdown was possibly even more of a concern
The lack of a real breakdown specialist really showed in Paris as England were comprehensively outplayed in this area meaning the French enjoyed plenty of possession, whilst England only got a foothold in the final ten minutes. Silly penalties gave France a commanding lead thanks to Freddie Michalak’s boot, whilst England were turned over far too often. This is one area were they will get destroyed by Wales and Australia unless they address it, and fast.
4. Perhaps Owen Farrell IS the man to play 10
I know it’s not going to be a popular opinion for many, but after George Ford struggled at various points as the pressure mounted, it became clear that Owen Farrell dealt with the pressure much better in the previous weeks game. He may not be as exciting to watch, and perhaps doesn’t provide the same attacking threat, but Farrell is the much more consistent option, especially when his side comes under pressure.
5. Henry Slade must be given serious consideration
Last week, one of the key differences was that England’s backs absolutely dominated the French at almost every opportunity. A large part of this came down to Slade’s distribution at 13 which allowed Jonny May and Anthony Watson to shine outside him. His lack of experience may be counting against him right now, but surely England cannot ignore Slade given the failure of either Burrell or Twelvetrees to really shine.
6. Forward selection will be key
Whilst England had pretty much a first choice front eight playing in Paris, the combinations failed to fire which will be of concern. Now this could be in part down to fatigue, and rustiness, but given the way the French dominated at the breakdown, and particularly in the scrum, there have to be questions asked of those currently deemed first choice. The same players need another run out against Ireland in a fortnight to see what the issue is.
7. The forgotten men can no longer be ignored
Both Danny Cipriani and Nick Easter proved their value to England’s cause with impressive cameos in the final 20 minutes. Cipriani was the spark that brought the England backline to life, whilst the side looked considerably more threatening from the back of the scrum with Easter’s introduction. Selection choices will be tight, but given the performances of the pair, they both justified inclusion in the final 31-man squad.
8. Burgess > Burrell
It’s not that Burrell was poor, it’s just simply that he failed to impress more than Burgess did when both playing behind a beaten pack. Burrell obviously has experience on his side when it comes to selection decisions, but the visibly difference Burgess made to England’s defensive line when he played cannot be ignored. We now need the chance to see what Burgess can do when playing alongside England’s first choice backline.
9. Nowell and Watson to start on the wings
After impressing many during England’s first test against France, Jonny May failed to make much of an impact during the second game in Paris. That’s not to see he should be cast aside as he has proven what he is capable of, but for the time being at least, England need to stick with their Six Nations combination of Nowell and Watson on the wings. Both have proved themselves in both attack and defence over the last couple of games.
10. The tactical kicking is still dire
There were a number of times in Paris when England desperately needed a clever kick to ease the pressure and allow them to clear their lines, unfortunately every time a kick went up it landed straight in French hands. Compare that to the French kicking which pinned England back during key periods and it becomes clear how desperately England need to focus on their kicking out of hand.
11. The last 10 are a real positive
During the closing minutes of the game England managed to score two tries, and put together an impressive drive that saw them run nearly the length of the field. Obviously it isn’t ideal to only turn up in the closing stages of a World Cup game, but at least it is clear that when under pressure, England are capable of scoring. If they can just start with the same kind of intensity then they could be on to something.