England bounce back to form
March 15, 2009
Delon Armitage celebrates England's third try © Getty Images
Disciplined, dangerous and delightful. Three words you will not have found alongside England's name in this year's Championship - until today that is.
Those baying for blood can put away their knives - England finally found top gear in the penultimate round of this year's Six Nations with a barnstorming display against a largely clueless France at Twickenham. Plus - no yellow cards. Hallelujah.
When did England last play like this against anybody? An exciting cutting edge to accompany the brute force we have come to expect brought them their third five-try haul since Martin Johnson took the reins but instead of the relatively lightweight opposition of the Pacific Islanders or Italy - this was title-chasing France.
An early score was needed to settle the nerves and get the home crowd on side and we didn't have to wait long with Mark Cueto dancing over within a minute. Cut to Johnson in the stand waving a clenched fist - but instead of frustration it was exultation.
The rampant home side kicked on in style with three more tries before the break with Riki Flutey, Delon Armitage and Joe Worsley all getting the crowd on their feet - and they should have had another if it were not for a poor forward pass from Armitage. The crowd were in raptures with the game only half done and rightly so - England were flying.
As good as England were, France were equally poor for much of this game. Gone was the passion and fizz that had accounted for Wales under Friday night lights in Paris last time out. Instead we got the other France - no passion, ill-disciplined and not interested. Under constant pressure from the hosts the mistakes, and the penalties came thick and fast.
With the half-time whistle they were already beaten and their body language on their return to the field suggested there were no inspiring words like those from Declan Kidney that rallied Ireland yesterday.
But could England maintain the tempo? Within a minute of the re-start they were celebrating again as another electric break from Armitage tore France apart before Flutey forced his way over for his second. Suddenly a record score to eclipse the 37-0 thrashing of 1911 was in the offing.
France rediscovered some of their grunt in the second half and tries from Dimitri Szarzewski and Julien Malzieu certainly added some respectability to the scoreline but the damage was done and England had too much in every department.
This was a near to complete performance from England who had shown so little creative endeavour up to this point in the Championship. Gone was the stuttering team that relied heavily on its defensive strength to keep it in the game - but that element was not sacrificed by the new-look England.
They chased and tackled themselves out across the park as we have become accustomed too but this was blended with total dominance up front, in the lineout and in the loose where players of all shapes and sizes were offloading before and during contact. Man of the match Tom Croft was a significant presence in the lineout although may have been lucky to edge out Flutey for the honour.
The penalties were still there - a 16-13 count that they also won - but importantly they were not conceded in match-changing positions. Patience in defence and attack was rewarded time and time again and England were able to execute in attack where previously they have faltered.
We all knew England were a better side than the one that has laboured in their last three encounters and Johnson had promised that this kind of display was not far away. But he was not getting carried away with this result and rightly so.
Confidence is such a key element to optimum performance in an elite sport and England were exuding bags of it at HQ in the face of a sea of doubters. They are in danger of rescuing something from this campaign - watch out Scotland!