England 10 v 53 France
France ended their Twickenham hoodoo in thrilling fashion, thrashing England to keep their title hopes alive. It was a fabulous performance from a French side that had failed to find top gear coming into the game and a statement for anyone doubting them in lieu of recent results. France turned Twickenham into a playground, barrelling England into submission with relentless physicality, streetwise savvy, and a sprinkle of magic. It was a savage performance from the French, ruthlessly efficient in everything they did, razor-sharp when any attacking opportunity presented itself. There were heroes from one to fifteen, but Antoine Dupont produced a display as outrageous as it was outstanding, cementing his status as a global superstar.
It was a sobering afternoon for England. The optimism that had been bubbling ahead of the game was punctured by half-time. By the end, they had slipped to a record home defeat, baggage no player wants to carry. France deserve a platitude of superlatives, but England were never at the races, harassed and humbled by a rapier-like French side. England’s strengths against Wales were turned to jelly; France bossed the kicking game and bullied them at the breakdown. Statistically, England marginally had more possession and territory, yet apart from a brief five-minute spell at the start of the second half, they never looked threatening. England spent eighty minutes on the canvas, France pulling all the punches.Embed from Getty Images
The pre-game fireworks had barely dissipated before France had their first try of the match. Two English errors were ruthlessly exploited; Jack van Poortvliet’s box kick was too long, and Henry Slade made a misread in midfield. Gregory Aldritt made the initial half-break, feeding the rangy Thibaud Flament, who superbly offloaded to Ethan Dumortier, and the winger fed Thomas Ramos to score. It was a frantic opening, but France kept their composure, with Jonathan Danty proving a menace at the breakdown, as England had to scrap hard at every ruck. England were guilty of under-resourcing some breakdowns and, as compensation, over-resourcing others, harming their phase play. With the rain starting to come down, England struggled to pull any attacking punches of their own, France’s defence relentless.
France’s second try stemmed from a moment of excellence from Antoine Dupont, the scrum half spotting England realigning in the backfield and putting in a precise kick, resulting in a 50/22. France didn’t waste their attacking platform, the outstanding Flament barrelling over with a hard line around the corner. England got on the board with a Marcus Smith penalty shortly afterwards but committed the cardinal sin of infringing at the restart. Silly penalties were hurting England, and France were in no mood for mercy, Ramos’s penalty restoring their seventeen-point buffer. They had their third try shortly before halftime, Aldritt peeling off the back of a powerful scrum before feeding Charles Ollivon on his inside to score. France led 27-3 going down the tunnel, Twickenham in complete shock.Embed from Getty Images
If there was any form of solace for England, it was that France had fallen off the boil in the second half in their win against Scotland. England started the second half looking sharper and almost had their first try, but Max Malins couldn’t control Smith’s crossfield kick. However, they didn’t have to wait long, the arrival of Alex Mitchell injected some much-needed tempo, and Freddie Steward picked a great line to give England a sniff. However, any notions of a comeback were soon destroyed as France wrestled back the momentum through their kicking game, penning England back. Dupont was once again instrumental in their fourth try, his clever kick in behind being tipped on by Romain Ntamack into the grateful arms of Flament, who powered over.
France’s fifth try was all about speed of thought, Ramos recognising the knock-on advantage and slicing through the England defence before putting in a well-placed kick downfield. Smith did well to mop it up initially, but France’s chase was ravenous, forcing him back over his line. Crucially, Smith didn’t dot the ball down, and Ollivon showed great awareness, reaching over the ruck and touching it down for the score. It was a score that epitomised the sharpness of the French, constantly alert to any opportunity. France almost forced another score through their kicking game, Dupont collecting his chip from inside his own 22 before booting the ball on, Smith able to carry it over his line this time.
Any sense of relief was short-lived, and again it all came from a kick, Gael Fickou spotting a knackered Alex Dombrandt marking Damian Penaud in the wide channels. No contest. The jet-heeled winger glided away, diving over for France’s sixth try. The floodgates had opened, and France’s final try came from a slick line-out move, fast hands setting Penaud free for his second try. England looked dead on their feet at the end, Ollie Lawrence’s injury forcing poor Dombrandt to line up in the centres, something they brutally exposed for their final try. The final whistle provided mercy for England and sparked scenes of French jubilation, the Twickenham curse banished.
It was a miserable afternoon for England, the rain may have been intermittent, but the heavens well and truly opened on them. It was a defeat that will pose many questions about England’s style of play and selection as they were comprehensively outplayed. The selection of Marcus Smith over Owen Farrell was a key talking point ahead of the game, but ultimately England were left wanting all over the park; individual persecution is unnecessary and unhelpful. What’s more worrying is how sluggish England looked, slow to adapt to events, a worrying trait that was often used as a stick to beat Eddie Jones. Steve Borthwick summed it up perfectly when he said, “We got exposed today”. A rampant Ireland lurk around the corner, a disconcerting thought, and England must quickly haul themselves up from the canvas.
France can bask in the glow of arguably their greatest-ever Six Nations performance, though they can’t be overly hopeful of England helping their title charge next weekend. Their victory on Saturday is the magnum opus of the Galthié and Edwards era, all facets of their game coming together; power, precision, efficiency, and a sprinkling of flair. France’s identification of space is unparalleled, and they brutally and repeatedly exposed England. If their defeat against Ireland and less convincing victories over Scotland and Italy had created some doubts ahead of the World Cup, Galthié’s side squashed them emphatically.