Six Nations: Five takeaways from England v France as destructive Les Bleus rip up the record books at Twickenham

Charles Ollivon for France Credit: Alamy
Charles Ollivon for France Credit: Alamy

Following a 53-10 victory for France over England in their Six Nations fixture, here’s our five takeaways from the game at Twickenham on Saturday.


This was a match that was a privilege to watch – the complete destruction of a doughty England side by a world class French team, powered by their brilliant back-row, created by their half-backs and finished by anyone in blue. It was a masterclass in controlled running rugby, showing every facet of France’s all round game and completely eviscerating Steve Borthwick’s rebuild project of his England side.

53-10 didn’t flatter France; it was just rewards for a display that was ruthless, brutal and total. From the moment the outstanding Charles Ollivon created the first try with an exquisite offload to the last play of their attack that saw Damian Penaud scoot over for his brace, they were compelling and brilliant.

Whilst the rattle will all be about the tries scored, the real battleground was the breakdown, where Francois Cros, Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt and Jonathan Danty reigned supreme, and in contact, Alldritt, Julien Marchand and Danty simply dominated every rattling collision going. It was a day for France where everything that they tried came off; from Antoine Dupont’s left footed 50:22 to Gael Fickou’s speculative touch kick that saw Penaud scoot over for his first try.

England learned a lot today – the first thing being that rugby is a sport of structure – one that demands players to earn territory, to make tackles and to pin down the basics. Effort or flair were not England‘s issues on Saturday – their problems were ones of simple structural pragmatics, things that Borthwick prides himself on getting right. The next week is the biggest test of his coaching career as a repeat of this showing in Dublin in the final round would be nothing short of unmitigated disaster for England.

The big things

France came into this match buoyed by the return of Danty and boy oh boy did he put in a display to justify his selection. Without his barrelling presence in midfield, France have looked lateral, stuttering and cumbersome, but with him back, their backline was transformed into a lethal and direct attacking force.

His personal stats might not show his influence on the match but every time England tried to fire it was he who barrelled them back, making four bone shattering dominant hits and acting as a fourth back-row forward around the breakdown. Alldritt, a player that’s been out of sorts for most this campaign suddenly started thundering and trundling in his own low slung way and, with Ollivon doing Ollivon things alongside him, the platform created for Dupont and his backs was nothing short of silver service.

Sure, it was one of those rare days that every marginal call went France’s way, but in the grand scheme of things, they earned it.

As French flank Cros observed speaking exclusively to Planet Rugby, “The win was everything for us today; we spoke about the history of this fixture and the importance of putting in a performance, but the actual result itself is amazing for us and way beyond what we dreamed of. It shows just how far we’ve progressed and it’s amazing for our confidence moving forward. We now must hope England will do us a favour in Dublin!”

England’s woes

An ashen faced Borthwick nailed it when he said that France were better in every aspect of the game but in physicality they were on a completely different level to anything that England had encountered this season.

England’s poise and structure demonstrated against both Italy and Wales simply evaporated. Without their talisman Owen Farrell, England sacrificed structure for flair, but in doing so lost all of their forward momentum, their exit strategy options and their direction. Contestables went booming too far down the pitch; the aerial skills of Anthony Watson, Max Malins and Freddie Steward were not utlilised and England were drawn into a carrying game they simply had no chance of winning.

Power is an issue in the English game right now and in Test rugby it’s the single most important quality in delivering consistent Test match performances. For Borthwick, as he commented, England now know exactly where they are in real terms. His task now is to learn the harsh lessons dished out by France, to try and find the power players to change the shape of the English backline, and above all, get some structure back into their performances.

The game in numbers

The metrics of this Six Nations match make some staggering reading. It was England’s third worse defeat in their rugby history, their worst ever defeat at home and their biggest defeat to France. For French readers, it was France’s record win and record margin against England the first time they’ve beaten the Red Rose at HQ since 2005.

In carries, five French players broke the magical 50 metre barrier – Thomas Ramos, Penaud, Ethan Dumortier, Ollivon and Alldritt, whilst between them France missed only 11 tackles all afternoon, an outstanding effort.

But as hard as those numbers are to stomach for the home supporters watching France’s brilliance, nothing comes close to the staggering 26 tackles England missed, the 18 passes that went to ground or the five turnovers they conceded at ruck time. By contrast only Marcus Smith and Steward topped the 50 metre carry mark and between the team, 19 unforced handling errors blighted any progress they could have or would have made.

It was a chastening day – measured objectively as above, the figures make stark reading, but the subjective emotional impact this will have on England can only be judged in how they react when they visit Dublin in a week’s time.

England’s work-ons

Let’s be honest, the Smith experiment didn’t work until Farrell came on and added his typical pragmatic go forward. Smith wasn’t helped by glacial service from Jack van Poortvliet and when Alex Mitchell came on with Farrell, the pace and point of England’s attack went up several notches. With Henry Slade having another entirely dismal display in the 13 shirt and with Ollie Lawrence’s leg injury still being assessed, it’s certain Farrell will start at 12 next week with either Lawrence or Manu Tuilagi outside him at 13.

But the backs are only as good as the ball the forwards provide and England’s back five were absolutely monstered by France. Borthwick needs to find both fire and power from his big men for next weekend and that starts by getting some beef into the pack, players that can compete with the 6’5″ 120kg back-rows that France and others have in abundance. Rugby is now a game of both physicality and brutality and without that sheer power, Test matches are particularly hard to win.

As Borthwick observed, it’s healthy that England know exactly where they are after this – but whether or not they have the time or the playing stocks to turn this around before the World Cup is a very debatable point indeed.

READ MORE: France player ratings: Antoine Dupont a perfect 10 as Charles Ollivon, Jonathan Danty and Thomas Ramos sparkle

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