Rugby Union: Once France turned the tide we could not turn it back

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The Independent Online
So rolling stock has been joined by rolling laughter and revelry in the Chunnel. A win fashioned by the wiles of Christophe Lamaison and by a fightback of amazing character and fortitude the like of which is so often absent in French sides, especially when facing a deficit as large as on Saturday. But if we're to be honest, we threw that one away.

At 20-6 down, they were a spent force. Their heads were starting to fall, their scrummage was starting to go back and we were repelling any attack they threw at us with some stout defence.

Our defence had been the key up till then. With the French stifled at the back of scrums, hit back on the sides of breakdowns and shut off on the wider channels, we were able to create our own chances not only from our own set plays but also from plenty of turnover ball or loose kicks.

Lawrence Dallaglio's try came from just such a kick. Tim Stimpson ran the ball back strongly and linked up well with a couple of forwards for some quick ruck ball providing Phil de Glanville the opportunity to put Lawrence into space. He still had a long way to run, though, but he showed the kind of pace a back would have been proud of.

Taking chances, or not, as the case may be, would be a criticism I would have of us. England have, in the past, been guilty of not creating many chances, but not on Saturday. Yet somehow we only contrived to get over the line just once. At this level, it has proved to be costly.

In saying that, though, we should rightfully be proud of the rugby we played in the first half. For so long the English have had an inferiority complex when it comes to playing attacking rugby against the French. Saturday blew that one out of the water. If we are to take something from this game, and we should, then it should be that.

So what went wrong? I believe the crux of it was that we took our foot off the pedal. The wind behind our backs gave us false confidence and in trying to make use of it all tempo and momentum went out of our play. They took the initiative, playing with the sort of dynamism we had shown in the first half and, as so often happens, once the tide has turned, kings, let alone ourselves, cannot turn it.

The turning point was their first try. We had just withstood 10 minutes of intense pressure on our line and had fought our way back to the half- way line. A period of pressure in their half would have killed the game off but it didn't happen. Instead, a well-placed chip gave Leflamand a chance which he took well.

It was a carbon copy of a try they scored against Wales and you may ask whether we learnt a lesson from that or not. Yes, but we felt France provided more of a threat running at us than kicking. Our objective was to play a flat-four three-quarter line defence which means that the winger comes up in a line with the fly-half and centres and, in some cases, even ahead of them.

This means a lot of work for the open-side winger and full-back in defence. For the full-back, as he has more room in which to cover in a sweeping role, and for the winger in recognising those kicking possibilities, reading them early and reacting accordingly. Until then it had worked well, their running threat had been nullified and their kicks had been comfortably covered. However, if the preciseness of the kick in terms of timing and placement was spot on, we were always going to be vulnerable. We paid a high price.

No Grand Slam, but we must take pride in a lot of aspects of our play on Saturday and look forward. Wales will provide us with a stern test, not least because it is in Cardiff and not least with the side they are capable of putting out these days.

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