Six Nations 2014: Hurting Owen Farrell needed George Ford in the right gear for England against France

Owen Farrell suffered cramp in the late stages in Paris, with no fly-half available to replace him

After one of those matches in which either team could claim quite justifiably that they did enough to win, but only one gets to bask in the spotlight of glory, England will not need to search hard for wrongs to put right.

A bungled line-out in a prime attacking position early in the final quarter echoed the collapse of that much-practised discipline in the loss to New Zealand in November. And selection and sheer bad luck left the otherwise increasingly impressive Owen Farrell painfully ineffective in the crucial last few minutes, heaving his body around the Stade de France on cramped-up legs more suited to propping up a trestle table. We felt the fly-half’s pain; we also wondered hard why George Ford was not on the bench, whence he could have put poor Farrell out of his misery.

Obviously the theory in the event of Farrell going lame was that either Billy Twelvetrees or Alex Goode would move up and fill in. England’s midfield cover on the bench was Brad Barritt, a centre. Ford, a specialist fly-half unlike Twelvetrees or Goode, was in Paris, but only alongside Matt Mullan and Anthony Watson as a travelling reserve, which is a means of avoiding last-minute rushes for the plane and of exposing the uninitiated to some of what goes on in full-Test rugby. Ford stood in the players’ tunnel beforehand in a blue tracksuit top – only active participants receive the proper plum-coloured gear – like a lad invited to the pub but forbidden from having a pint.

So the 20-year-old Bath playmaker watched with everyone else as England’s tyro wings were ruthlessly clipped. A broken nose removed Jonny May early on; Jack Nowell had a great deal more to say for himself, shrugging off a fumble from the kick-off that really was the fault of a mistimed catch by the forwards in front of him, to make hard runs into and beyond contact, and hammer the French with the tackles of a wing well used to playing full-back. May and Nowell might not have started at all if Christian Wade and Marland Yarde had been fit, or Chris Ashton been on red-hot form.

Six Nations 2014: Defeat to France is frus trating and painful but far from a catastrophe for England  

Eventually Nowell, on a yielding pitch and probably drained by the adrenaline rush of a debutant, suffered cramp at the same time as Farrell. When it came to Gaël Fickou’s brilliant winning try for France, the England back line was badly out of kilter with Luther Burrell and Mike Brown – a centre and a full-back – manning the wings, which was where Fickou’s try was created.

The BBC’s pre-match showreel of past tries from England v France included two that featured a Fickou-esque flick of the wrists to beat a defender: by Eric Bonneval for Philippe Sella to score in 1986 and Jon Webb on his own in 1992. In each case, and in Goode’s as England’s last man on Saturday, the dummied player – the dummee, shall we say? – may have cursed himself for not following every schoolboy’s edict of tackling the attacker closest to him. But there is an instinct that sends you to a place you do not want to be and Fickou referred to it post-match as “something that we do not control, which is played in a split second”.

It left Sir Clive Woodward on TV screaming about England’s need to learn how to “close a game out”. The ghost of Jonny Wilkinson fluttered over the Stade de France. Would old Golden Oval Balls have dabbed a kick here, cajoled his forwards there – and used his instinct to send the French to places they did not want to go? This kind of decision-making is high among Ford’s points of difference, as Stuart Lancaster likes to refer to elements of talent.

The Calvin Report: Stuart Lancaster's new approach carries air of authenticity  

The Grand Slam is gone already for England, for the 11th season running. But the title could still be theirs, and their remaining fixtures could not be kinder: away to Scotland and Italy either side of Ireland and Wales coming to Twickenham.

The astonishing dynamism of Billy Vunipola at No 8 surely ended any lingering yearning for Nick Easter’s subtler ball skills. Ashton or yet another wing may need to be whistled up to replace May. And of all the Plan Bs to consider sooner rather than later, Ford should be allowed to properly understudy his buddy since schooldays, Farrell.

Six Nations 2014: Billy Vunipola wants England to lose tag of 'nearly men' after late defeat by France
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices