Six Nations: Jeremy Guscott on how England exposed France

Media playback is not supported on this device

Another week and another win for England.

Their display against France was not as impressive as in their opening-round success in Dublin but, given how abject the visitors were, it did not have to be.

England were not required to be as creative as they were against Ireland. The France defence was more chaotic and easily manipulated than Joe Schmidt’s side.

But the pre-match planning was just as clever.

England exploit Huget’s shortcomings

Someone in Eddie Jones’ brains trust of coaches worked out there would be space in behind the France defence and the team exploited it time and again, with three of their four tries created by a kick ahead.

Despite nearly 60% of the game being played in the France half, England kicked the ball from hand more than the visitors – 49 times to 38.

It helped that for the second week in succession, England came up against a non-specialist full-back.

Last week, Robbie Henshaw was standing in at 15 for Ireland. This week, Yoann Huget – whose last start at full-back was back in June 2013 against the All Blacks – filled in for France.

Huget’s commitment to one-on-one defensive situations is not all it could be, but crucially he also failed in his role as the commander-in-chief of a pendulum defence.

From that deeper role, it was his job to make sure the wings move up and down the flanks in tandem to provide cover for either touchline, depending on where England were attacking.

It takes time to get used to that role and Huget, usually a winger, was exposed by England.

Too often there wasn’t anyone at home.

Build-up to May's third try

Morgan Parra competes for the ball

Yoann Huget

It was not necessarily a pre-planned move, but England’s coaches would have raised the possibility that France would be out of position in the backfield then trusted their players’ ability to read a field and work out if the theory is becoming reality on the pitch.

This current England team have the personnel to exploit those situations if they arise.

With Farrell, Slade and Daly all in the side there is real footballing ability in the backline.

They have got the raw pace of Jonny May to lead that chase, but the physical gainline threat of Manu Tuilagi in midfield also keeps defences honest if they try and drift too wide or hang back too much.

In Dublin the space was out wide and against France the space was in behind. Both times England found a way into it.

At the moment, everything is going incredibly well for England. Things are falling right by and large, the ball is going to hand and their decision making has been sound.

France were abject and they are a side struggling with identity. All they have is their size, but they play like they are looking forward to the next meal rather than scoring tries.

Inevitably though, there will come a game where the defence gets the upper hand.

There will be times when you dink it through and someone is there to collect it, or when you pass it wide there is someone there to intercept.

When that happens it will be a test for England to keep confidence in their ability and adapt mid-match to find a way through.

Can England learn from the lessons of 2013?

The Millennium Stadium on 23 February is exactly the sort of environment to provide that examination.

In 2013, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi were part of a starting XV that could not handle the atmosphere created by 70,000 Welsh fans, with a Grand Slam on the line.

The class of 2019 dealt with the challenge of going away to Ireland’s Aviva Stadium very well.

But Cardiff, loud and intimidating, is a different kettle of fish to the more inclusive feel of Dublin.

I think the match will be decided by the contest between England’s multi-threat attack and Wales’ defence, masterminded by Shaun Edwards.

You have got a passionate defence under Edwards and there is no doubt Tuilagi will draw attention from Josh Adams and George North.

The Leicester centre is a threat with or without the ball. When Keith Earls came for him in Dublin, it made Ireland narrow in defence as they tried to shorten his yards with the ball and limit his momentum.

The Wales wingers will have to be very cute in how they try and cut down Tuilagi’s space.

Equally, England will have to be canny with the times they use Tuilagi as a carrier or a decoy. It will be England’s attack against Wales’ defence.

Eddie Jones’ men will be favourites – it’s how they handle it.

Everyone around England is already talking about winning the Championship, the Grand Slam and the World Cup – but they have to take it game by game.

Jerry Guscott' team of the week

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

BBC Sport – Sport

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Powered by WP Robot

Scroll Up