Crunched: England succumb to worst ever home defeat against France
Joshua Hughes, Print Editor-in-Chief, discusses England’s 10-53 defeat against France in the Six Nations.
Outclassed, outplayed, outshone. These were the words of one England fan on Twitter after the Red Rose wilted in a demolition job orchestrated by the French team on Saturday. England were bested in every area of the pitch and despite Freddie Steward’s consistently excellent form, the entire team looked like a deer in the headlights from the get-go.
This possibly is one of the greatest ever performances by a French team, let alone against England, the rugby on display will go into the history books alongside the attacking displays showcased in the 1970s by the Barbarians and the ‘match played in heaven’ Bledisloe encounter between the Wallabies and the All Blacks. France were dominant in every area with their work in the breakdown particularly impressing. Their defensive work (at times on their own line) was similarly clinical – despite a consolation try from Freddie Steward in the 48th minute and a solitary penalty from Marcus Smith, France had the perfect game.
This possibly is one of the greatest ever performances by a French team, let alone against England.
It was undoubtedly men against boys and from France’s first try, which came courtesy of Thomas Ramos just two minutes into the game, England looked to be on the back foot. Surveying people on the journey home, the general consensus was that England’s worst player was “all of them”, with people specifically singling out the performances of Jack van Poortvliet and Jack Willis as the worst they saw. One fan said they thought it was “the worst England performance they’ve ever seen” and they had been at the notorious 2015 Rugby World Cup game against Australia which subsequently ended England’s campaign.
The French fans similarly suggested that as opposed to any specific England players underperforming, it was generally a poor showing from the entire team. When asked who they thought was the best French player, one fan mentioned Thibaud Flament who’s brace of tries stood out in a French display that left many spoiled for choice when selecting a man of the match. Speaking to ITV, man of the match Flament said “It was a very challenging week. We were very excited to come out here today”. Many others put forward French captain Antoine Dupont who’s performance was outstanding. Despite making way in the 68th minute to give Maxime Lucu some rare game time, Dupont’s time on the pitch was truly masterful, with a 50:22 off the left foot standing out as the best example of his excellence. When subbed off, Dupont was greeted to applause (and in some cases a standing ovation) from English and French fans alike.
England on the other hand were booed off the pitch which, along with the brass band covered in St George’s Crosses, looks to be a new feature to Twickenham’s matchday experience. Patches of the famous green seats started to appear from around the 70th minute until full time where roughly three quarters of the stadium remained – most of whom seemed to be French fans belting La Marseillaise out around Twickenham.
In terms of assessing England’s performance, it is seriously difficult to point at one aspect and suggest that to be the source of their problems – there are too many to choose from. While some may say selection was the issue, the questions I would fire back is who else is there? Who would have been better at countering the threat posed by the French? The most worrying aspect of the outcome of this game is England, in arguably the closest thing to derby in international rugby, looked like they didn’t want to be out there.
Patches of the famous green seats started to appear from around the 70th minute until full time where roughly three quarters of the stadium remained.
Compounding this was the mentality of the players late in the game and after full time. Matt Dawson singled this out in the subsequent episode of the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily where he criticised the players for completing a lap of the pitch after the game. Some of the players’ reactions and body language was similarly inappropriate – Ben Curry’s massive celebration after a breakdown penalty in the dying embers of the game standing out. Questions need to be raised over how the team mentally prepare themselves for games because England starting slowly has been a consistent theme for several years now.
The breakdown was the worst of it, with England continuously being either turned over or disrupted throughout the match. Alex Dombrandt and Jack Willis who shone against Wales were non-existent on the pitch against France. Lewis Ludlam however was at times decent although this was nowhere near the level required to challenge the likes of Gregory Alldritt, and Francois Cros. Charles Ollivon especially had one of his best games since his return from injury, evoking memories of his talismanic display against England in the 2020 Six Nations in Paris.
A word must go to England captain Ellis Genge. Captaining your country for the first time against France at home brings with it huge pressure. Despite the result and the nature of the game, Genge continued to be courteous and clear with referee Ben O’Keefe and his honesty in the post-match interview was admirable. Speaking to ITV, Genge said “I am not going to sugar coat it. That is one of our worst performances and we were punished numerous times. We asked the boys to keep fighting and I think for 80% of it we were fighting.” He continued “The momentum, it was against us for too long, we didn’t claw it back. I am not hiding away from it, we were well beaten today. “They [France] are brilliant, they have shown time and time again why they are the number two team in the world. We are way off where we want to be.” “If I had the answers I would be somewhere else earning millions. It is a bit of a mystery at the moment. We probably have to be better in the contact area which is on the forwards.”
Despite the result and the nature of the game, Genge continued to be courteous and clear with referee Ben O’Keefe and his honesty in the post-match interview was admirable.
England Head Coach similarly was upfront with England’s position, “We got exposed today. I thought we would get a measure of where we are at, there is a big gap between us and the top teams in the world. I don’t think it matters what I thought it [the gap] was before, I think we understand where we are and what we have to do.”
England will finish their 2023 Six Nations campaign with an ominous away match against Ireland in Dublin on the 18th March who, after beating Scotland, are looking to claim their first grand slam since 2018. The top ranked side in the world will look to close out the tournament while England, once again, are playing for pride in the final round of the championship.