England 23-13 France, Six Nations, February 23
Lancaster: Robshaw is my rock
February 23, 2013
Stuart Lancaster: Robshaw is my rock
Head coach Stuart Lancaster described England captain Chris Robshaw as his "rock" after a 23-13 win against France in the Six Nations at Twickenham kept alive home hopes of a first Grand Slam for 10 years.
In a brutal match of thundering collisions, centre Manu Tuilagi scored England's only try in the second half after playing on after having had his left ear ripped apart in a tackle, an injury which required 19 stitches, two of them in his inner ear. Owen Farrell kicked four penalties and replacement Toby Flood slotted two as France slumped to their worst start in the tournament since 1958. But it was Robshaw's captaincy, which came under such scrutiny in the autumn, which pleased Lancaster most.
"He was outstanding," said Lancaster. "He and Tom Wood in the back row in the last 10, 15 minutes were everywhere. They were like rocks in the side. It is what we build our game around. Chris was outstanding in his leadership and his ability to make correct decisions under pressure, as a player as well as a captain. It is testament to him."
Robshaw was named man of the match after a game in which the French went close to redeeming themselves for defeats against Italy and Wales. Centre Wesley Fofana scored a first-half try while Morgan Parra kicked a penalty and a conversion and replacement Frederic Michalak also slotted a penalty. And while Robshaw admitted England were caught cold at times in the first half, he was delighted with the way they finished.
Robshaw said: "It was a real test match. Credit to our defence in the second half because ultimately it created Manu Tuilagi's try and allowed us to keep the scoreboard ticking over. The character of the squad means we were never too far out of the game. We kept the belief that we can come back, even in the first half when we didn't play that well. It might have been different if we were on the road, but the crowd got us going. It is a great win.
"The Grand Slam doesn't cross people's minds, our feet are firmly on the ground. We are in a good place. Manu was great today. You could really see his power and physicality. He wanted to prove a point and he did that. He was exceptional."
Lancaster was particularly impressed with the increasing maturity of his young side, who have already posted wins against Scotland and Ireland.
He said: "Our players know they have been through a very tough 80 minutes. France brought their 'A' game today and put us under a lot of pressure. We kept our composure and our discipline and our defence grew. We didn't quite get the tempo we wanted all through the game but our bench made a significant difference. If you'd said to me at the start of the day we'd get a 10-point win we would have taken it definitely.
"It shows a great level of maturity for a young side, average age of 24, 200-odd caps, that's it, and playing a side that's been to a World Cup final and have lots of world-class players and 500 caps in their side."
Philippe Saint-Andre: A much-improved performance
Lancaster insisted there was "no panic" when his team went in trailing 10-9 at the interval. He said: "We were always confident that our bench would come on in the last 20 minutes and we would see the fruits of our labour. But in games of this level it is going to take 60 to 70 minutes to do it. We got there in the end."
Defence coach Andy Farrell, whose son Owen went off with a thigh strain in the second half but should be fit to face Italy in two weeks' time, said: "It was brutal. The French are wounded. Everyone was saying this was a team coming to Twickenham with a point to prove. It started like that.
"It's a massive win for us because in brutal games like that it is very hard to get going. For a young side to have the composure to do the right thing at the right time and keep putting France on the back foot and keep making France make errors, and then look fresher and stronger in the last 15 minutes, makes it a massive win for us."
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre believed his side would learn from their third successive defeat in this season's Six Nations. Saint-Andre said: "England were very pragmatic. They didn't do amazing things but they were very, very accurate.
"We had an opportunity at 10-9 to go four points in front and I think England were not as confident as they were the game before. But when we have the opportunity we need to finish it. We didn't do it and we need to learn about this, carry on and work. We are very sad but we know this team has a lot to bring and that each game will be better and better.
"The young players need to learn. The taste of losing is terrible but they must keep this in their mouths and work to improve and be more professional in everything - fitness, skills and diet - because at the high level, you win or you lose on small details. At the moment small details are not on our side."
Saint-Andre believed the game turned on England's ability to control the last quarter.
"We did enough for 60 minutes and not enough for the last 20 minutes," said Saint-Andre. "We expected a little bit more of our bench. We expected they would bring more. We also need to respect the ball more. So many times we tried to offload when it was impossible and we lost too many balls in the contact area.
"For a lot of guys this was the first time they played at Twickenham. I just hope they will learn a lot about this game and what's important for us is to build a squad for the next World Cup."
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