Jonathan Davies: England on familiar soil but in a strange place

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The Independent Online

Going solely on the performances of last weekend, I'd have to fancy France to beat England at Twickenham today because they will find it easier to improve. Their faults against Scotland in Paris were mainly due to complacency and an incredible set of handling errors.

Going solely on the performances of last weekend, I'd have to fancy France to beat England at Twickenham today because they will find it easier to improve. Their faults against Scotland in Paris were mainly due to complacency and an incredible set of handling errors.

They certainly won't be feeling complacent this time and their handling is bound to get better. Also, as badly as they played and as lucky as they were, they won, so they are coming into this game on the back of a win.

They still have the scent of a Grand Slam in their nostrils whereas England haven't - indeed, they might be smelling something else.

If they lose today, England will have played two, lost two, and they go to Ireland for the next game. You don't have to spell out the threat they are under today. Playing at Twickenham is usually a great advantage for them, but the crowd haven't seen these jitters in recent years, so how will they react if things don't go well? This fixture is never less than a massive game, but it suddenly seems to be surrounded by new pressures.

Strangely enough, both teams had the same sort of experience last week. Neither achieved the forward domination that everyone expected - including them, presumably - and they lacked ambition and creativity with what possession they did win.

Without the forward platform they've both been used to, they floundered. The French half-back partnership just didn't do anything, and neither did the England midfield.

I just couldn't recognise a gameplan in the play of either. They lacked any sort of shape and it was difficult to work out what they were trying to do.

There was absolutely no controlling influence from the half-backs. England, at least, tried to remedy matters by bringing Olly Barkley on in the second half and it did make a difference to have another kicker.

I thought back to the World Cup, when England were getting outplayed by Wales and Mike Catt was sent on to bring some order to England's proceedings. He succeeded, but it didn't work this time.

They had the sense to realise that the only way they would get a result was to go for field position every time. That's why we hardly saw Jason Robinson on his famous forays upfield. He caught a load of balls but declined to run them. I've never seen him kick so much since he joined union.

But it still could have happened for England after they went into a 9-8 lead. Josh Lewsey made a great tackle to dislodge the ball from the grasp of Gareth Thomas, and from the scrum England won a penalty which Hodgson kicked into touch on Wales's 10-metre line.

In that situation there's nothing better than for an outside-half to drive the opposition deeper into their own territory and say, "You're going to have to bring it all the way back if you want to score and you've got four minutes to do it". Instead, he threw a long pass to Joe Worsley, who knocked on to start the sequence that led to Wales's famous victory.

Rugby at this level is all about cohesion, and England lacked it so badly it must be difficult for Andy Robinson to work out what went wrong. The pitch didn't help England to set a steady scrum, but that's no excuse.

Mathew Tait has taken much of the stick and is not even on the bench today, but he'll be back. It wasn't the best day to try to get past Gavin Henson, but the main thing was that neither Tait nor his centre partner, Jamie Noon, could get over the gain line, and if you can't do that you can't set up any phase play. And the French have bigger centres than Henson.

It is still hard to believe that we didn't see Robinson, Mark Cueto or Lewsey featuring in attacks. They'll need to be seen today. They all have to perform.

France are not without their problems. They, too, lack control, and their coach, Bernard Laporte, has been criticised for sticking with Yann Delaigue at No 10 instead of bringing in Frédéric Michalak, but we know that Michalak can't control a match, so Delaigue is worth another chance.

The French pack are capable of rolling over England and they have gone for bulk in the backs. England will need a display as good as they produced against South Africa a couple of months ago to avoid the unthinkable.

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