There was no game for the Wallabies this week so I had to look elsewhere for material to write about. I’ve heard the lamentations of English fans regarding their first half against France in Paris on the weekend and I decided that I would give myself a real challenge by seeing if England did anything good at all in the first half.
- England were unable to play rugby down the right end of the field. England held the ball for the first time in France’s half at 22:24 (discounting lineout throws and overstepping the mark on restarts).
- Both back-to-back errors and mistakes at crucial times gifted France an early lead and cost England any opportunity to apply pressure.
- In the second quarter, England did create opportunities to apply pressure but bungled them with poor execution.
England’s dreadful first quarter
The first quarter of the England’s game was characterised by errors that were compounded with stupid decisions.
First up, Haskell ignores the referees warnings that he was offside to gift France 3 points, followed by a restart by Ford that goes out on the full. England then hold France out of their half with good defence, but knock it on when France are forced to kick it.
The English scrum gets a penalty against the feed, which relieves 6 minutes of French pressure and gives England their first chance of playing rugby in the French half. However, Ford doesn’t find touch and compounds his error by failing to catch the French clearance, despite being uncontested in the air (though there was lots of traffic).
England are rattled and France drive it into their half.
Peyper calls “ball’s up” signifyin a maul, which Vunipola and Cole mistake for “ball’s out” and swamp Chouly from all sides.
I think this was the least stupid of all the penalties England gave away beause I thought Peyper was calling fair play as well.
Nevertheless, Cole and Vunipola are well offside and England give away another 3 points.
At this point England will feel more annoyed rather than beaten as France haven’t really earned their points so much as England have given them. Still, 6-0 to France.
Ford’s restart is fantastic, being both wide and deep, and Nowell is right there to greet Nakaitaci as he catches it.
France are forced to clear under pressure and this gives England their second chance to play rugby in France’s half, with a lineout 30 metres from France’s line.
However, France spoil the party with a good lineout steal. England looked to go to the back, but France reads it and gets two jumpers in the air.
There’s a bit of back and forth, but England are losing the kicking battle and still can’t find their way into France’s half.
Eventually Vunipola gives away a penalty even a schoolboy would be embarrassed about, by moving up inside the 10 metres before the lineout is over.
Another 3 points to France and England starts to worry. 9-0 France.
At this point Barnes starts going on about England losing the contact but that is just not true. They are winning plenty points of contact all across the field but just can’t get them to be happening down the right end of the field (Is he always this wrong?).
Just under 18 minutes in and England are still yet to hold the ball in France’s half. Their third chance comes with a lineout just under halfway, but it’s ruined again by poor execution, with Tom Youngs’ throw being ruled, “not straight.”
France drive it into England’s half off the scrum and Burrell’s work at the ruck gives Michalak another shot at 3 points, but thankfully for England, he misses.
It’s after 22 minutes before England successfully possess the ball in France’s half. It comes off the back of a puzzling decision by Michalak to grubber through when France were making metres into England’s half at will.
Brown’s return kick is fantastic and gets past Spedding who is forced to clear, giving England a lineout 5 metres into France’s half.
England win the lineout but fuck it up with Brown dropping it cold.
England’s first set play
England have set this up nicely and for the most part it is well executed. Joseph takes it to the line and does a fantastic job of holding Michalak (who should be sliding) and creating a dilemma for Bastereaud.
Joseph has two options, either the short ball to Burrell straightening up and aiming for the hole on Bastareaud’s inside shoulder, or behind to the second line in Ford and May who are sweeping wide.
Basteraud does very well to position himself on Burrell but not over committing, so he is able to slide onto Ford when he sees the ball go behind.
Ford sees Basteraud on him and also sees Fofana has May well covered, so Ford makes a good decision and throws the long ball to Brown who changes lines to target Nakaitaci’s inside shoulder.
Brown definitely had the option to keep drifting and simply draw and pass to release Nowell down the wing. It looks like a case of Brown trying to do too much since he had been holding England together so far. I think the better option was to hit Burrell on the inside line (in hindsight he was definitely going to win the contact on Basteraud and possibly even break straight through).
However, the play they ran was good, but Brown just dropped it cold by trying to beat the defender before the ball was in his hands. It is possible that Ford stuffed the pass by misreading Brown’s angle but I think Brown changes lines after the ball was in flight and thought he could hold onto it, and when it was unnecessary.
It’s possible that England could have scored off this play or made a great attacking raid into France’s 22. Or more likely, they would have made a good run over the advantage line and put France onto the back foot and continued driving for metres. At the very least, Spedding would have had to come up into the line and England could have kicked in behind for metres with the Fullback out of position, forcing others to move back and cover.
Brown’s error is then compounded by a powerful French scrum that obliterates the English scrum. The aussie front row will be licking their lips at that one 😉
3 more points to France.
England on the restart go deep and try to force the error. Cole makes up for his earlier gift 3 points by making a great steal on France’s 22 in front of the sticks and earns a penalty. Robshaw wisely goes for the 3 points. England need to settle and not make things worse. 12-3 France.
The restart is good and Cole England get their second possession in France’s half when France put it out on the full on the restart.
England’s second drive
England have good options with the center-field scrum and form up behind the scrum, forcing France to split defenders and giving them options on either side.
England go right and it is shut down well by France, however, England do make good metres and get the ball out before France are set. France catch them behind the gainline but that’s because France are offside and Peyper (and/or the far side assistant referee) miss it.
Peyper goes back to the scrum penalty where Arous collapsed. England looked disorganized in that passage of play and Ben Youngs seemed to lack urgency at the ruck base.
England go for the points and it’s a good decision if Ford can make it. Apparently Ford is not known for long distance goal kicking… or goal kicking at all (66% for England – shit, wanna borrow Quade?). Still, the decision has merit. To be down by only 6 after France have had the run of play is not a bad thing. The kick is short but with the dropout, England will probably get the ball back from where they kicked it anyway. He probably would have made the shot if the penalty was given where France was offside instead of the original scrum infringement.
However, considering the low likelihood of him making the shot, and the fact that England haven’t held the ball in France’s 22 all game; in hindsight, it might have been a better decision to go for the sideline to exert some real pressure on France.
Ben Youngs and the case of “Thank F#$k we’re not playing the All Blacks”
A few minutes later, there’s a little kick battle between the two teams and it culminates in this head scratcher by Ben Youngs.
(Editor’s note: the ball circled there is actually a flag, the ball is out of frame somewhere around there. You get the point)
Youngs has tried to find the the ground in behind but Nakaitaci does well to run back and catch it on the full. Fofana works hard to get back so they can counter, because as you can see, England are desperately short of numbers down that channel.
If Fofana doesn’t slip, France probably score.
England scramble to hold the French out and eventually Vunipola adds to his dismal game and nearly gives away a yellow card with a lazy high shot.
France settle for 3 points instead.
It’s 15-3 now and England still can’t seem to stop the bleeding. They’ve managed to at least play some rugby but are being let down by execution.
33:25 Immediately off the restart, Nowel contests and is very lucky he doesn’t give away a penalty. Fortunately, France make a rookie error and kick it out on the full after passing it back into the 22. England get their very first chance to attack deep inside the French half with a lineout 25 metres out.
Vunipola’s moment of redemption is squandered
The maul from the lineout is well set but France stop it getting any serious momentum. Youngs fires it out back to Joseph who again takes it to the line and draws in defenders.
He has the same options again, with Vunipola on the inside line and Ford swinging wide in the second line. Fofana has seen the danger in the second line and has shot up at Ford and will probably smash him if he gets his wish, as Ford is screaming for it. Joseph can either give the short ball to Vunipola or give it back to Nowell who might not be expecting it but will probably beat Fofana. Joseph makes a good decision and gives it to Vunipola who busts through the tackles of Bastereaud and Michalak to get his arms free for an offload.
There is plenty of space on the left since Fofana has shot up out of the line and if Ford adapted and changed his line to support, he would be dotting down a 5 pointer under the sticks.
Unfortunately, Ford does not follow up and therefore Vunipola’s little offload looks really silly. I guess he shouldn’t have thrown it unless he knew someone was there, but if Ford follows up and hits that at speed, I don’t think anyone from France would stop him.
Instead it’s Fofana who wins the race to the ball and France clean up. England are too slow to realign and France make easy metres out wide to work it to the 40. Michalak notices space behind Nowell and puts In a nice kick. Nowell’s kick is absolute trash and he gets lucky that France muffs the clean up.
Half of England were offside and if France gather that cleanly, it would be 3 points at the very least.
Joseph shows his class (again)
England decide that the kicking game is not working and look to run it. They feel like they are playing their best rugby with ball in hand (and they are right). France are short on the far side of the field, but the ball is slow from the ruck but again. Youngs just doesn’t seem to have any urgency.
When the ball finally does get to Joseph left, France have numbered up.
However, Joseph does a fantastic job of getting outside his man and drawing in another player.
This leaves Burrell open and he straightens into the hole. Tillous-Borde does a fantastic job of sliding across to stop Burrel from busting clear, but he still carries it up to halfway. England recycle quickly but Tom Youngs spills it on halfway. Maybe Ford gave it a bit late, but at test level you should be able to catch those.
England are sluggish in their realignment and France are able to easily move it deeper into England’s half.
England get a turnover and move it up through Joseph before clearing. Ford does a good job of it by getting it in behind Nakaitaci and finds touch inside France’s 22. France take it quickly and clear the ball, but it doesn’t find touch and Ford fields it on England’s 40.
Ford does good – and no one cares
Ford sees the space down the sideline and decides to run it. It doesn’t look like much is on but the kicking game isn’t working.
Spedding sees Ford going for it and moves to shut it down but is stepped on the inside and Ford breaks the line.
Unfortunately no one from England has worked hard enough to support Ford and Nowell is given the ball flat footed.
Ford probably could have dummied there and at worst, taken it into contact where he would have won the collision. Nowel’s only option is to go back on the inside and makes a few metres.
Ford does bad
England now have the ball 30 metres out and can apply some pressure. Ford gets it from Youngs and holds onto it too long.
He is trying to do too much with the ball when he should be giving it early to his forwards so they can tuck it under the shoulder and hit the line. At this point they look confused and are worrying about whether Ford is going to pass it or not, when they should be worried about killing whichever poor French bastard has to tackle them. Haskell drops it backwards but England clean it up and reset.
Burrell makes a good decision and doesn’t try anything fancy.
Just good ol’ fashion elbow grease to get across the gainline.
England forwards slowly realign from the previous ruck and don’t leave many options.
Robshaw wisely carries it into contact. Ford and Haskell find their mojo and work another play across the gainline.
England’s final push
England have numbers on the far side and Youngs gives it to Launchbury who draws a few players in before giving it out the back to Joseph.
Joseph carries it forward, straightens and draws in a defender before giving the short ball to Burrell.
I think a flat cutout to Brown was the better option here, or even a pass behind Burrell. But Brown seemed too deep for the flat ball and too flat for the behind ball. Still, Burrell makes a great run and gets the ball well over the gain line. It’s quick ball and France are caught offside.
Joseph and Burrell work another play inside the 22 before France disrupt it and they go back for the penalty and get 3 points.
Nothing much happens after this. England try and run it from their own half and make some headway but it’s ultimately snuffed out over the sideline and that’s halftime.
France 15 – England 6. Could have been worse but still could have been better even given the limited opportunities.
Key player ratings
- Joseph: 9 – Fantastic player. Didn’t put a foot wrong and was constantly drawing in defenders to unleash players outside him. Sometimes there may have been better options but he was clinical in the options he did take.
- Burrell: 7 – Worked fantastically with Joseph and ran strong whenever he touched the ball. One silly penalty under the sticks though.
- Ford:5 – Mixed bag that Quade Cooper would be proud of. Both the devil and saviour at times. The bad probably outweigh the good.
- Vunipola: 4 – Is going to cop a lot of blame for that half and probably rightly so. He would be a hero if Ford backed him up on that offload.
- Ben Youngs: 5 – Good accurate passing but really lacked urgency. Also had one questionable clearance that should have been 7 points to France.
- Forwards: 6 – Didn’t really do too much carting of the ball up but did provide a solid enough platform for the back line. Set piece was inconsistent and let France pinch a lineout and get a scrum penalty.
England really hamstrung themselves in the first quarter with silly mistakes and stupid penalties. This not only prevented them from playing any rugby in France’s half, but also gave France a good lead and put themselves under pressure. They managed to settle in the second quarter and found a few opportunities to apply pressure to France. However, these were often squandered by poor execution and decision making. If England were a little more clinical in a few key plays, they could have come out of the first half ahead on the scoreboard. Though if France were also more clinicial, it certainly could have been worse…
ps. Get rid of May, I don’t think he touched the ball at all in the first half. That’s not good enough.