By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Scrumhalf Ben Youngs says England's performance in Saturday's 23-20 victory over France should be their blueprint for the future, not just for the style on show but for the character than enabled them to wrestle control at the end.
England played their best attacking rugby since the 2019 World Cup but still found themselves trailing by four points heading into the final minutes of the Six Nations clash, only for Maro Itoje to clinch victory with a late try.
"The balance of run, kick, pass and counter-attack was really good," Youngs said.
"That blend seemed to click nicely and I felt like everyone was pushing on every phase. It wasn’t a case of rewriting the script - we’ve been trying to attack like this since the autumn - but it’s taken a long while for some of it to come through.
"(It was) a really good blueprint of not far off what we want to look like, more consistently."
Youngs bore the brunt of much of the criticism of England's unadventurous play in the autumn internationals as he sent up endless box kicks and showed little of the sharp passing that was a trademark of his play in his pomp.
He said it was hard to pinpoint exactly why things had come together so well at Twickenham on Saturday but that, as ever, the ability to attack freely did not exist in isolation.
"Sometimes it’s just the way the games go, the field position, the flow of it, can you get into it," he said. "At times the game became quite unstructured. France took a couple of quick line-outs, we took a couple of quick line-outs.
“Our discipline was way better so we weren’t giving away cheap territory. So, every time you had the ball, you weren’t on your own 22 when the only option is to try to get some field position. That definitely has an impact.
"Perhaps that has had an effect on why it has taken a bit of time in terms of getting the ball in the right areas."
Although both teams threw the ball around sevens-style in the first half, it was in the second, when things began to more resemble a usual northern hemisphere match, when England began to look like they were taking charge, albeit without the points to show for it.
"Do you know what I was most pleased about? It was the character we showed," Youngs said. "I always felt it was coming, that we were just one ruck or pass away, one quick ball away, from breaking down the dam.
"But every time we did get that close there was a penalty for holding on or we didn’t quite get it right and they’d get down the other end. But it never fazed us and we were always on to the next thing."
England sign off their title defence away to Ireland next Saturday where a repeat of the all-action first half against France is unlikely, but so too is a return to the totally risk-averse approach that has marked many of their games over the last 18 months.
"We've showed what we’re about and we’ve got an opportunity to do it again next week," said 31-year-old Youngs, who will be winning his 109th England cap.
"We’d love to be going to Dublin with something to win but we’ll still be there, fully committed and trying to build on what we did."
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)