England v France: Where the game was won and lost

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England's grand slam wagon rolled out of Twickenham on Saturday evening with everything still on course, while the French now have two games to save themselves from the ignominious fate of a wooden spoon. It was a dogged performance from the men in white, but the victory was just as much about French incompetence as English brilliance. Below are a few of the points that saw England to victory.


Really, this sub-heading could read 'the second half', because that is when England really asserted their dominance. There is no doubt, however, that the role of the bench played a crucial part in this.

It happened in two waves. On 50 minutes, reasonably early for wholesale changes, Stuart Lancaster made three substitutions: James Haskell for Courtney Lawes, Mako Vunipola for Joe Marler and Tom Youngs for Dylan Hartley. All three coming off had had poor games, and it was great to see Lancaster not showing any apprehension at pulling them out. In response, Youngs was typically tyro-like in the loose, and along with Vunipola shored up the scrum no end, while Haskell added a physicality that Lawes was bafflingly lacking.

If England's substitutions were sensible, France's were seismically stupid. After finally picking close to the right starting line-up, who for the most part performed well for 60 minutes, Philippe Saint-André thought it would be intelligent to replace some of them with those who have been uselessly under-performing so far. This was never more true than with Morgan Parra, who was replaced by Maxime Machenaud on 65 minutes. Parra had been the warrior-like general he always is, precise with the boot and relentless in the tackle. Machenaud was none of these things. Freddie Michalak's introduction sparked a mini-meltdown, while in the front-row taking Thomas Domingo off led to the disintegration of the French scrum. It was truly baffling.

Manu Tuilagi

Manu Tuilagi versus Mathieu Bastareaud was billed as the heavyweight clash in the midfield that would be worth the ticket fee alone; two giants challenging each other for gain-line dominance. In the end though, only one of them made any real impact.

Tuilagi was imperious. Every time he got the ball there was an audible intake of breath in the crowd and more often than not it was followed by cheers as he proceeded to burst through tackles as if swatting away troublesome flies. There was a large slice of luck served up in the build-up to his try, but he still showed impressive pace to race away from the scrambling cover defence. And all this with his ear torn half-off his face. The man is a warrior.

Bastareaud, by contrast, was easily shackled by England's defence. For that the midfield general Brad Barrit must take great credit. He was ignominiously replaced by Florian Fritz after 73 minutes; the one substitution that Saint-André actually got right.


Were it not for a dazzling moment of brilliance from Wesley Fofana, who showed just how ludicrous it was that he had been stuck out on the wing all this time, the scoreline would have been embarrassing for France. And frankly, it wouldn't have been an unfair representation of the match. England looked like a team that was settled and had built impressive foundations for the next few years, while France looked like a team in turmoil. They lack commanding presences in key positions, never more true than at fly-half where François Trinh-Duc did not assert himself and Freddie Michalak looked like he was trying to play his way out of any future appearances in the international arena.

Sadly for France, their problems run deeper than just the names on the teamsheet. While England head ever-closer to a first grand slam since 2003, France have two games to salvage something, anything, from this championship.

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