England were overwhelmed 53-10 by France at Twickenham in a record home defeat that removed them from the Six Nations title fight and provided an alarming reality check for coach Steve Borthwick’s recovery project.
Trailing 27-3 at half-time – also their highest interval deficit in a game at Twickenham – they found themselves in the midst of a full-blown crisis on Saturday after being torn apart by attack.
Thomas Ramos, Thibaud Flament and Charles Ollivon had crossed with alarming ease and England looked utterly lost as fault lines opened up in their defence, kicks, collapse and discipline.
The arrival of Owen Farrell and Alex Mitchell from the bench early in the second half came amid a comeback that gave Freddie Steward a try but it was short-lived as Flament, Ollivon and Damian Penaud pushed France further forward.
The rift between the rivals was embarrassing as the World Cup hosts recorded their first Six Nations win at Twickenham since 2005, gloriously bouncing back into shape after much of the tournament.
And it will only get harder for Borthwick’s men as, after taking on the team ranked second in the world, they will have to travel to Dublin next Saturday to take on Grand Slam contenders Ireland, who occupy the summit .
Marcus Smith did all he could after edging Farrell halfway through, but with his forwards dismantled at every turn he was powerless to stop the collapse.
“Obviously France has to be given a lot of credit and they are clearly a world-class team,” said Borthwick.
“We’re really disappointed with this performance, there are many things we wanted to do but we couldn’t execute.
“I think we lost collisions on both lines, offense and defense. We knew they had immense power and unfortunately we didn’t delve into it. When we attacked, they were able to dominate. There is a lot of work on the collision areas
“We were exposed today. I thought we were getting a measure of where we are, there’s a big gap between us and the top teams in the world. I don’t think it matters what I thought [the gap] I think we understand where we are and what we need to do.”
For all the talk of England playing at pace, it was France who sped off the blocks and by the time lock Paul Willemse got out of the tackle they were gone with Ethan Dumortier sending Ramos into the left corner.
Ramos added a penalty to reward another Les Bleus attack and with just 10 minutes left the hosts were already looking bleak.
England were paralyzed by their discipline in the collapse and apart from a powerful run from Steward, they struggled to impress when it started to rain.
Antoine Dupont gained influence as he weaved his magic around the ruck, but it was the power of strikers Francois Cros and Flament that did the damage for the next try.
Flament crossed in the 26th minute but it was too easy for the ban as passive England were overwhelmed in contact.
And their scrum defense was terribly exposed in first-half injury time when Gregory Alldritt charged forward and saw blueshirts lined up in support, bringing Ollivon down.
England needed to act quickly and hope seemed to be buoyed when Smith delivered a terrific kick on the run for Max Malins, but the wing knocked over the line.
It was now France’s defense that was disintegrating and after waves of attacks it was breached when Steward ran a tackle to slide over it.
England quickly renewed their attack but the comeback faltered when a ferocious rebound fooled their backcourt defense and allowed Romain Ntamack to flick the ball to Flament, who scored.
And there was more unhappiness when Smith was run over his line by Dupont as he covered a kick, and Ollivon landed as he released the ball before two late attempts from wing Penaud drove the final nail in England’s coffin.
France coach Fabien Galthie broke down in tears afterwards.
“Yes, I realize what we did. I’ve been coming here since I was 20,” he said. “We played the way we wanted to play. We didn’t know exactly how, but we had this drive. And doing this here, in this context, is no accident. We worked with these players. It shows that we are on the right track.
“It’s tough for them knowing how important rugby is in England.”
Wales wins Battle of the Spoon
Italy is heading for another well-known last place in the Six Nations.
The Azzurri paid the price for another slow start and then lost two players to the bench that saw them go down 29-17 against Wales on Saturday in a game billed as a wooden spoon decider.
It’s a fourth straight defeat in the league for Italy, who need to win the finals in Scotland next weekend to have any chance of avoiding bottom.
It is likely, however, that the Italians will be bottom for the eighth consecutive time in the Six Nations and 18th time in 24 editions since joining the Northern Hemisphere tournament in 2000.
Their 25th straight home defeat in the Six Nations had its origins in another, now trademark sloppy first half, with Wales – piloted by the superb Rhys Webb at scrumhalf in their first Test start in three years – after 10 minutes and 0-10 : 0 in the lead went 22:3 lead at half time.
Wales turned around with a man advantage after Italy’s No.8 Lorenzo Cannone pulled a maul down the try line in the 34th minute to waste a penalty try and receive a yellow card.
They then benefited in the 46th minute from the sin of home winger Pierre Bruno, who guided his left forearm down the throat of Welsh supporter Wyn Jones.
Webb sent No. 8 Taulupe Faletau for the fourth bonus point try in the 50th, enough to give them their first points of the Championship and a first win of Warren Gatland’s second reign after previous losses to Ireland, Scotland and England.
“There’s still tremendous growth in this team going forward,” Gatland said of Wales after changing his line-up yet again.
“A lot of players will have learned a lot about themselves today and it wasn’t a bad Italian team.”
Wales, who have to travel to Paris to play France in their last game, have five points and Italy one.
The Italians played some exciting stuff again, with second-half attempts from flanker Sebastian Negri and center Juan Ignacio Brex being the least they deserved to draw level with Wales for much of the game at the Stadio Olimpico.
Brex’s attempt in the 68th set the stage for a frantic final and Italy had enough possession and territory to add two more tries and claim victory. Poor handling cost them dearly after a series of newlines.
Gatland reserved special praise for Webb, who – in his first Six Nations start since 2017 – controlled the game with his kicks and grabbed some dart breaks on the rims.
It was his shot in the left corner that happily rebounded and was caught by winger Rio Dyer for the ninth-minute opener.
“His decision making was excellent,” Gatland said of Webb. “He didn’t force anything and kept us in shape.”
https://www.theroar.com.au/2023/03/12/wasnt-this-meant-to-be-eddies-fault-exposed-england-walloped-by-france-wales-win-battle-of-also-rans/ Shouldn't that be Eddie's fault? "Exposed" England is defeated by France, Wales also wins the Battle of rans