Work in rehearsal pays off on the grand stage

five nations' championship: France are swept aside by pack's awesome st rength to raise spirits further for the World Cup
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The Independent Online
Despite our performances in the first Test against South Africa last summer and against Romania, Canada and Ireland this winter, doubts have still lingered as to whether we have the ability to mount a realistic challenge for the World Cup this summer. Saturday's performance against France will, I hope, have answered those questions . . . and more.

We knew we would match the French up front, but what was especially satisfying was also to have dominated the loose and to have outclassed Pierre Berbizier's team in the backs.

Moreover, this win was based on the kind of dynamism and flexibility that our coaches, Jack Rowell and Les Cusworth, have been seeking.

The dynamism was evident in the way that we mixed up our attacks, whether by the boot or the hand, with every player at one time or another taking the ball up.

Flexibility was shown in the way that we were able to adapt our play during the game: when we realised that rucking wasn't working we went on to maul it, and then to develop the maul, either to launch players up the middle of the maul or, later in the game, off the sides. Consequently, as a back line we were consistently provided with quality ball to use.

We had seen in New Zealand how the French were expert at spreading out their defence off rucks and mauls, making it very difficult to stretch the ball out to the flanks. Therefore, the tactic we adopted was constantly to drive close in, to suck in the defence and to create the one-on-one situations which are bread and butter for the likes of Jeremy Guscott.

Our third try, and my second, was a classic of its kind. Now I know what it is like for those footballers who manage successfully to convert a move rehearsed on the training ground on to the field of play - especially when we were never able to carry outthat move so well in practice! The timing of the run on to the ball by Mike Catt was perfection itself. He also showed great presence of mind to hang back off the opposition full-back, Sebastien Viars, to give me time to pick my line.

Classic, however, is not a word I would use to describe my first try. A bomb down the left flank was well chased by my brother, Rory, who turned Philippe Bernat-Salles beautifully in the tackle. Most of the French had strayed over to that side of the pitch, so I signalled to Rob Andrew for a kick back across to my wing. He decided to make me work for it by kicking right into the dead ball area.

I made up some ground on Philippe Saint-Andre but, instead of staying on his line some yards ahead of me, the French captain decided for some reason to veer right across my path.

Being a little aggrieved by this, and not to mention tired after running all that way, I gave him a slight tug. The bounce after that favoured me and what remained was an agonising wait for the officials' decision. So what of the French? No doubt becausethey were following Pierre Berbizier's instructions, the players were disciplined, although only with regard to foul play. Therein, though, lies the irony. Indiscipline leads to penalties, which the French clearly wanted to avoid conceding. However, in striving to achieve this, all the passion went out of much of their play.

As for England, this was another step up the ladder towards our two main goals this year: the Grand Slam in the Five Nations' Championship and victory in the World Cup in South Africa this summer. There are two more rungs to climb to achieve the former, eight more if we are to achieve ultimate success in the latter.

Swing low sweet chariot!

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