Robinson accepts blame for 'awful' Red Rose performance

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The England head coach Andy Robinson last night gave a brutally frank assessment of England's 31-6 Six Nations defeat to France and admitted: "We were awful."

England never recovered from gifting Florian Fritz a try inside the first minute. Dimitri Yachvili, who finished with 16 points, booted France into a 16-3 half-time lead before Damien Traille and Christophe Dominici rounded off the victory with second-half tries.

It was England's seventh defeat in 14 Six Nations games since the World Cup and their heaviest in the championship for 20 years.

And Robinson did not mince his words. "We have got to be totally up front - we were awful today," he said. "We have performed poorly in all aspects of the game, right from the first whistle and allowing France to score seven points. Whenever we had the ball we either kicked poorly and didn't find touch or we knocked on and turned it over. We knew it was about silencing the crowd. Today, the band played. The players are stunned.

"This is very, very disappointing and as the person in charge it is important I take responsibility for it. Since I've been involved this is the most disappointing performance we have had."

England's preparations were badly affected as gastroenteritis swept through the camp on Saturday, affecting Matt Dawson, Steve Thompson and Mike Tindall plus replacements Lee Mears and Tom Voyce. Dawson was hit hardest and was not cleared to play until minutes before kick-off, forcing England to call up a replacement.

Bristol's Shaun Perry could not be contacted so Andy Gomarsall, who has not played for England since November 2004, flew to Paris this morning. In the end, Dawson was cleared to start - but Robinson refused to use the illness as an excuse for such a shambolic performance.

"The issues we had in the game, the tries France scored, were not because of that," Robinson said. But he did admit he may have to reassess England's World Cup chances after back-to-back defeats to Scotland and France. Robinson has previously spoken of how confident he is that England can retain their World Cup in France next year.

"It tests your thought process," he said. "I am very confident in what we are trying to achieve. I am disappointed for the players and the magnificent support. We know when you play France that if you give them opportunities you will do well to stay in the game. We gave them far too many opportunities to show how good they were."

England's points came from penalties converted by Charlie Hodgson, who departed at half-time with a hamstring injury, to be replaced by Andy Goode.

The France coach Bernard Laporte felt his side had magnificently exploited England's fragile confidence following their defeat to Scotland a fortnight ago and is confident Les Bleus can go on to beat Wales and win the Six Nations title.

"This was an important match because the result was a determining factor in who wins the tournament," Laporte said. "We haven't won the title yet, but we are on the right track. The players handled the pressure very well and with a lot of determination. That is what made the difference."