Rampant England humble France
March 15, 2009
Riki Flutey is congratulated after scoring England's second try
© Getty Images
A vastly improved England cantered to a 34-10 victory over an abject France side at Twickenham, restoring some pride in themselves and ending France's interest in the Six Nations Championship.
England's win was based around a simple game-plan, they defended well on the gainline, competed fiercely on the floor whilst crucially holding their discipline and exploited mismatches in the French defence. France, in stark contrast to their pumped-up display against Wales in Paris last time out looked disinterested, slow to react to England's attack and inaccurate in both their distribution and defence.
A first-half blitz from England produced tries from Mark Cueto, Riki Flutey, Delon Armitage and Joe Worsley and a 29-0 lead at the break, with France looking shell-shocked by England's marked improvement in all departments. France fought back in the second period with tries from Dimitri Szarzewski and Julien Malzieu, but Flutey's second try at the start of the second period had all but ended the game as a contest.
England manager Martin Johnson recalled Wasps lock Simon Shaw and Leicester flanker Tom Croft into a new-look pack after their narrow loss in Ireland while Harlequins wing Ugo Monye took over from Paul Sackey out wide. France coach Marc Lievremont made changes following his side's superb performance in defeating Wales, with Sebastien Chabal installed on the openside and Francois Trinh-Duc taking the reins at fly-half.
Both sides exhibited some early nerves, with both Monye and France No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy spilling balls. England's nerves lasted less than a minute however, with centre Flutey exploiting a mismatch in midfield before finding winger Cueto, who raced home for the perfect start. Johnson clenched his fist with excitement as Toby Flood slotted the extras for a 7-0 lead after less than two minutes.
England's intensity in the opening exchanges was far removed from the slow, trudging pace with which they attacked Ireland two weeks ago. France scrum-half Morgan Parra looked rattled from the off, and it was only a fine break from giant centre Mathieu Bastareaud that allowed the visitors and semblance of territory in the opening exchanges.
Parra was handed a chance to draw three points back for France when Simon Shaw foolishly went in the side at a ruck, but he continued his nervy start by pushing his kick wide of the posts. A second France break was snuffed out by the English defence soon after, with Shaw snaffling an ill-judged offload from fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc following some powerful running from Harinordoquy.
England looked patient and assured in defence, and France's big runners made little impact before Flood had a chance to extend England's lead. Harinordoquy was penalised for offside, and Flood confidently stroked over the kick.
With England 10-0 up, France looked to be proving the oft-repeated cliché about their unpredictability. Trinh-Duc produced a beautiful kick to pin England back into their 22 but England's line-out worked with mechanical precision to clear the danger.
With France's brief excursion into English territory dealt with, they soon found themselves even further behind. A fine set move saw Cueto dart from in-to-out through the French defence, making a mockery of the burly make-up of the French midfield, before returning the favour and feeding Flutey for a score under the posts.
France continued to huff and puff, the precision and pace that underpinned their possession game in Paris two weeks ago apparently having evaporated on the way across the channel.
England enjoyed the lion's share of possession, Flood turning the French defence with a grubber after some patient play from the English forwards before a spilled ball by Chabal saw England pile the pressure on further. Armitage kicked long and France fullback Maxime Medard was caught by Cueto, who turned possession over on the French line. Armitage finished the move that he started by gratefully accepting a pass under the posts following charges from Lee Mears and Shaw, coasting through a colossal gap to score England's third try.
England were made to wait only seconds more for their next try, more turnover ball from Shaw leading to another chase downfield. Some tidy handling from Steve Borthwick and Nick Easter sent Worsley over in the corner. Flood was injured in the build up to the try, leaving Armitage to miss the conversion as the half-time whistle blew.
Armitage was tasked with the final act of the first half, and lit the touch paper at the start of the second. From more turnover ball he scorched down the wing, his pace tearing apart the French defence before his pass found Flutey for his second try of the game.
France secured an attacking platform moments later from a penalty but their throw was picked off by Borthwick, revelling in a comprehensive performance from his side. With Flood back on the bench Andy Goode took over at fly-half, and his sensible kicking game helped England into good territory when they were in danger of losing their concentration when behind the advantage line.
France continued their laboured back play as host of replacements took to the field, unsurprisingly with sullen faces. England began to assert their dominance at the scrum, with France's forwards being splintered in the set piece as their backs made little impact in open play.
France mounted their first meaningful attack following a powerful drive from Harinordoquy, with their advance only stopped by a deliberate knock on from Ugo Monye. Monye's number eluded the officials, and the penalty did not result in what would have been a deserved yellow card. France secured ball from the lineout and mounted a series of attacks around the fringes before hooker Szarzewski burst over to score their first points. Parra's conversion limped wide of the posts.
France continued their mini revival by winning another penalty in English territory, a turnover reversed before they won a second penalty after Andrew Sheridan slipped his bind. England's intensity dropped markedly as they conceded another penalty, Borthwick reading the riot act to his massed ranks.
From a quick move France had their second try. England were outflanked far too easily by Malzieu, their defence horribly narrow as the ball was fired wide from a scrum. Parra was again wide with his conversion but France were immediately back on the front foot, clearly deciding that 65 minutes into the game was a good time to start playing.
France's possession stats increased dramatically as England's fire left the game, but the majority of their work was comfortably marshalled. Armitage was again the catalyst for England as the game entered the final minutes, collecting an offload from Nick Easter before showing his electrifying pace again. His burst came to nought, but raised the volume inside Twickenham once again.
France retreated back into their shell with more poor handling and communication making a mockery of the talent on display. England mounted a final charge at the French line, roared on by the Twickenham faithful. England opted for a scrum following a late penalty in front of the French posts and despite the best efforts of Mike Tindall France emerged with the ball and ended their misery by heaving the ball into touch.
This game will be remembered as a triumph for England and Martin Johnson, who will sorely hope for a repeat display against Scotland next weekend, while for Marc Lievremont the daggers will be very quickly drawn in the French media.
England: Delon Armitage (London Irish); Ugo Monye (Harlequins), Mike Tindall (Gloucester), Riki Flutey (Wasps), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks); Toby Flood (Leicester), Harry Ellis (Leicester); Andrew Sheridan (Sale Sharks), Lee Mears (Bath), Phil Vickery (Wasps), Steve Borthwick (Saracens, capt), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Tom Croft (Leicester), Joe Worsley (Wasps), N Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Julian White (Leicester), James Haskell (Wasps), Nick Kennedy (London Irish), Danny Care (Harlequins), Andy Goode (Brive), Matthew Tait (Sale Sharks)
France: Maxime Medard (Toulouse); Julien Malzieu (Clermont-Auvergne), Mathieu Bastareaud (Stade Francais), Yannick Jauzion, Cedric Heymans (both Toulouse); Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Morgan Parra (Bourgoin); Lionel Faure (Sale), Dimitri Szarzewski, Sylvain Marconnet (both Stade Francais), Lionel Nallet (Castres, capt), Jerome Thion (Biarritz), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse), Sebastien Chabal (Sale), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz).
Replacements: Benjamin Kayser (Leicester), Thomas Domingo (Clermont-Auvergne), Louis Picamoles (Montpellier), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont-Auvergne), Sebastien Tillous-Borde (Castres), Florian Fritz (Toulouse), Damien Traille (Biarritz)
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Tim Hayes (Wales) Television Match Official: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)
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