Rugby: one-dimensional England score a lucky win

Rugby: one-dimensional England score a lucky win

England were expected to cruise to victory in their Autumn Nations Cup final against France on Sunday, said Chris Foy in the Daily Mail. Les Bleus went into the match at Twickenham with a severely depleted squad – the result of a legal challenge launched by the country’s top clubs, who want to limit players’ availability for national duties. 

Deprived of two dozen of his “leading stars”, head coach Fabien Galthié fielded an assortment of “second- and third-choice players”. Yet this team came tantalisingly close to winning – and in the end were only prevented from doing so by some refereeing decisions that favoured Eddie Jones’s team. Trailing 12-19 with just two minutes remaining, England were awarded a penalty. They capitalised on the subsequent tryscoring opportunity, forcing the match into extra time. In this period of sudden death, England were handed two further penalties. With the first, captain Owen Farrell missed a “straight shot to win the match”, but with the second, he managed to score. Afterwards, there were “scenes of euphoria on the pitch” – a reflection of the home team’s mighty relief. England may have “consistently had the last laugh” this year – they claimed the Six Nations title in similarly close fashion – but their performances have rarely been convincing, said Robert Kitson in The Guardian. And on Sunday, it was the same: for long stretches, they “looked horribly one-dimensional”, as they pursued a strategy based on kicking from the back and relying on their forwards to muscle their way over the line. “Had France turned up fully loaded, it would surely have been a different outcome.” England’s woes were typified by Farrell, who missed four penalty kicks in total, said Owen Slot in The Times. 

Afterwards, Jones stuck to what is now his standard line: that the “kick-tennis” style in which his team specialise is justified by their results. But all England have really shown this autumn is that they can “bully” physically inferior sides. That is unlikely to be the case when the international calendar opens up, and they face the best sides from the southern hemisphere. France’s performance, by contrast, provides further evidence of a “renaissance”, said Mick Cleary in The Daily Telegraph. Les Bleus haven’t won a title since 2010, but since being brought in as coach last autumn, Galthié has set about creating a “new French identity, not one of occasional frills and flair, but of solid foundations and clear game-plan strategy”. And despite his team only having 68 caps between them, this identity was on display on Sunday: “France IIIs played as the first team would.”

 

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