Crunched

Fee­ble Eng­land’s Six Na­tions am­bi­tions in tat­ters as French vic­tory hands ti­tle to Ire­land

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Daniel Schofield in Paris

Ire­land claim Six Na­tions ti­tle by thrash­ing Scot­land Jones laments Eng­land’s prob­lems at break­down

Eng­land head coach Eddie Jones fears his side are be­ing left be­hind at the break­down af­ter a chas­ten­ing 22-16 de­feat by France al­lowed Ire­land to snatch their NatWest Six Na­tions ti­tle.

Ire­land had put them­selves in the driv­ing seat with a four-try 28-8 vic­tory over Scot­land, leav­ing Eng­land need­ing a bonus-point win of their own to keep alive hopes of re­tain­ing their crown. Yet a vic­tory, let alone four tries, proved be­yond Eng­land, who slumped to back-to-back de­feats for the first time un­der Jones.

Many of the prob­lems that af­flicted Eng­land in their 25-13 de­feat by Scot­land two weeks ago resur­faced yes­ter­day at the Stade de France. Eng­land were again dom­i­nated at the break­down while they gave up a stag­ger­ing 16 penal­ties. Ref­eree Jaco Peyper also awarded France a penalty try and sent full-back An­thony Wat­son to the sin­bin for his high tackle on France wing Ben­jamin Fall.

“It is just a tough pe­riod for us,” Jones said. “Any team that is de­vel­op­ing, as we are, you go through these tough pe­ri­ods where the game does not love you. If the game loves us to­day then we might win the game, but we don’t get the bounce of ball, we don’t get that 50/50 de­ci­sion and we are in the losers’ chair and it is not a very happy place.

“We did not learn quickly enough. Why? I am not 100 per cent sure. There’s no lack of ef­fort. The game is chang­ing a lit­tle bit. We are prob­a­bly slow to adapt to it. We are not adapt­ing to the ref­eree’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion at the ruck as well as we should. They are painful lessons at the mo­ment.

“The break­down’s cer­tainly be­com­ing more con­testable. There are dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the ruck that are be­ing ref­er­eed and the con­test has in­creased enor­mously and we’re fail­ing to cope with that at the mo­ment and must find ways to cope with it. It’s as sim­ple as that. It will take some time and won’t come quickly.”

Ire­land, who eased past Scot­land thanks to tries from Ja­cob Stock­dale (two), Conor Mur­ray and Sean Cronin, will now head to Twick­en­ham on St Pa­trick’s Day seek­ing to com­plete their third Grand Slam.

“It’s a strange feel­ing to win the cham­pi­onship with a game to go,” Jonathan Sex­ton, the Ire­land fly-half, said. “We know how dif­fi­cult it will be [to win the Grand Slam]. The shoe is on the other foot from last year and I am sure they will be lick­ing their lips.”

Asked if Eng­land would be like a wounded an­i­mal, Ire­land head coach Joe Sch­midt said: “I think they’re go­ing to be re­ally dan­ger­ous. The per­son­nel that they have – they have an ex­cep­tional level.

“They have ex­treme pace. Up front, real ex­pe­ri­ence. Ev­ery­one knows the size of the chal­lenge. They haven’t lost there un­der Eddie Jones. It is about as much as pos­si­ble try­ing to treat it like an­other game.”

Eng­land were emas­cu­lated in Paris, fail­ing the test of manhood that Eddie Jones had set them, un­able to prove that they had any sort of viril­ity in their game.

Their ti­tle de­fence is over and a splin­ter of doubt has been driven hard into the heart of English rugby, an ap­pre­hen­sion that this is deja vu all over again, that a side with sup­posed World Cup cre­den­tials are not all that they are cracked up to be.

This was a salu­tary evening on so many fronts. Never mind chas­ing a bonus point for four tries. They barely man­aged to fire a shot in anger, caught in a morass of their own mak­ing. Their dis­ci­pline was ap­palling, con­ced­ing 16 penal­ties and hav­ing full-back An­thony Wat­son sin-binned in the sec­ond half and a penalty try awarded. They scored their only try through Jonny May late in the game when des­per­a­tion had set in.

They stut­tered and fret­ted, un­able to bring any sweep or thrust to their game. It was sober­ing. The pack were un­able to get a real toe­hold, al­though they did have a prof­itable evening at the scrum.

Much as the match was billed as a test of Eng­land’s 2019 World Cup cre­den­tials, the con­text of this en­counter was that France have noth­ing like the sta­tus that once they had. At best, they are a mid­dling side: at worst, a rag­gle­tag­gle bunch of mis­fits.

Their vic­tory over Italy in Mar­seille broke a dis­mal stretch of eight matches with­out a win. A sure sign of their in­sta­bil­ity and un­cer­tainty is the fact that they have got through 70 play­ers since the start of last sea­son’s cham­pi­onship, a re­mark­able turnover.

As a sign of the cur­rent lack of be­lief in the team, the ban­ner front page of L’Equipe yes­ter­day morn­ing read “God Save Les Bleus”. As English contributed to that splash head­line so did Eng­land to their own down­fall. They made France look good.

Eng­land were ragged and out-of­sorts, a far cry from the team that had shown so much con­vic­tion in win­ning back-to-back ti­tles, their fall from grace in Dublin last year not­with­stand­ing. Eddie Jones be­lieved that he had con­structed a side that could cope with what­ever came their way. This last two weeks has shown the fal­lacy of that line of ar­gu­ment. One bad de­feat can be due to adverse cir­cum­stance, one of those things. There is no such get-out clause af­ter this loss, the first time that Eng­land have lost suc­ces­sive games away from home since 2009.

That is the mea­sure of the per­for­mance, the sig­nif­i­cance of the re­sult.

Eng­land have now lost three of their last five matches in the cham­pi­onship, a yard­stick of medi­ocrity at best. In truth, it shows that they have well and truly stalled. Even a win over 2018 NatWest Six Na­tions cham­pi­ons Ire­land at Twick­en­ham, where Eng­land have not lost a tour­na­ment game in six years, would be hol­low. With so many ques­tion marks raised, it would be a pyrrhic vic­tory. Eng­land knew that, in the­ory, they had lit­tle op­tion but to chase the game once news of Ire­land’s bonus-point vic­tory had been re­layed from Dublin.

But they strug­gled to shake off French shack­les, their own way­ward­ness also un­der­min­ing the cause.

Eng­land did man­age to be­gin with in­tent, Nathan Hughes clat­ter­ing into Francois Trinh-Duc and Ben Te’o get­ting half a yard on his op­po­site num­ber, Mathieu Bastareaud. Un­for­tu­nately, they man­aged lit­tle else across a turgid first half.

Eng­land were fla­grant. They have suf­fered for their ill-dis­ci­pline and once again they trans­gressed when they came un­der pres­sure. Good sides ought not to yield so eas­ily. Eng­land gave away po­si­tion as well as points. Eight penal­ties had been con­ceded by half-time, Maxime Machenaud kick­ing

three goals to level the scores, 9-9 by the in­ter­val. Lit­tle has changed with France. Deny them ball, and they are vul­ner­a­ble. By giv­ing away so many penal­ties, Eng­land played into France’s hands.

There was some pur­chase at the set­pieces where Mako Vu­nipola won a penalty at the first scrum against the re­doubtable Rabah Sli­mani, Owen Far­rell duly kick­ing the goal from 42 me­tres. Mid­way through the first half, the Eng­land scrum had an­other notch on their belt when France again buck­led. Up stepped El­liot Daly to bang one over from three me­tres in­side his own half.

Eng­land lost No8 Nathan Hughes to what looked a nasty knee in­jury in the 24th minute to be re­placed by Sam Sim­monds. There were also con­cerns about Maro Itoje whose head re­ceived a bat­ter­ing from the France No8 Marco Tauleigne.

Eng­land were on a sal­vage mis­sion in the sec­ond half. The cham­pi­onship was on the slide. And that down­ward tra­jec­tory was to con­tinue al­most im­me­di­ately. In the 49th minute Eng­land were slip­shod in al­low­ing France hooker Guil­hem Guirado to pick up a loose ball and streak clear from a break­down. Eng­land scram­bled, again in­fring­ing, and when Trinh-Duc hoisted the ball left, it was only a high tackle by Wat­son on Ben­jamin Fall that saved the try­line. Not for long, Jaco Peyper rightly judg­ing Wat­son’s tackle il­le­gal, bran­dish­ing the yel­low card and award­ing a penalty try.

Eng­land looked rat­tled and al­most con­ceded an­other try within three min­utes af­ter Remy Grosso scorched down the left flank. Stretched in de­fence, prof­li­gate in at­tack was the mo­tif of the night, Eng­land wast­ing a gilt­edged chance when fluff­ing a line-out just five me­tres from the France line. Jones emp­tied his bench to make some­thing hap­pen. It was the last throw of the dice and it did at least yield some­thing, a smartly-taken try from May from a tap down in­field by Daly.

Far­rell’s con­ver­sion gave Eng­land a smidgen of hope, but it was quickly ex­tin­guished when Sim­monds gave away an­other penalty and Lionel Beauxis fin­ished the job. Or, al­most. Eng­land did have two fur­ther po­si­tions to strike from line-outs, but they butchered one through an over­throw and were then de­nied inches short. Vic­tory would not have been mer­ited.

Re­demp­tion for put-upon France, ab­so­lute de­jec­tion for Eng­land. Back to the draw­ing-board.

Beaten and bowed: James Haskell and his Eng­land team-mates slump to a de­feat in Paris that ended their hopes of win­ning the NatWest Six Na­tions and marked the first time they have lost con­sec­u­tive matches since Eddie Jones took over as head coach

Chas­tened: Eddie Jones in­sists Eng­land will learn from their de­feat af­ter a lack of dis­ci­pline cost them

Down and out in Paris: Eng­land full-back An­thony Wat­son (left) pre­vents Ben­jamin Fall from scor­ing a try, but was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle and France were awarded a penalty try; Jonny May (above) goes over as Eng­land try to stage a come­back and Court­ney Lawes (right) com­petes for line-out ball with Se­bastien Va­haamahina

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