(Wrote this on iPad while watching Chelsea beating Man City 1-0 at the Etihad. Impressive multi-tasking, I’m sure you’ll agree!)
Well I said the predictions would probably be wrong! So close though, and agonising for England after coming back brilliantly from 16-3 down. An entertaining battle, which could have gone either way, but it was looking like England’s until the last few minutes.
So what went wrong for England, or right for France? I’ve seen suggestions on Twitter that England weren’t fit enough. I don’t buy that one – early in the second half the commentators were saying France had lost their legs. True, Owen Farrell got cramp with ten minutes to go and that restricted what he could do. But I doubt that was a lack of fitness. Did England lack the experience to close the game down? Again, don’t think so. The backs were certainly youthful, but so were France’s – the game was won by a nineteen year old, Fickou – and the English forwards had plenty of nous and hard experience.
No, I think it was the substitutions that did for England. There are always plenty of them in rugby these days. It’s a brutal game, and the forwards, especially, need refreshing to maintain momentum. But just as England went 21-16 ahead, with a cheeky drop goal from Danny Care, the changes began. And one of the first to go was Danny boy. Coaches often do swap scrum halves at around 60 mins. They play such a pivotal role in the game, and a new man can bring fresh energy and different angles. But Danny was running the game, still showing zip, driving the forwards on. It was a very odd decision, good as the replacement, Lee Dickson, is.
The other change that didn’t work – no surprises – was Dylan Hartley coming off and Tom Youngs coming on. Now the all-action nature of the hooker means a swap is inevitable. It worked brilliantly for France as sub Dimitri Szarzewski made a superb run and pass to Fickou to set up the winning try. But when Youngs replaces Hartley the line out loses its poise, doubts creep in. Youngs made some powerful surges, but some of the control was lost.
And did the awesome Courtney Lawes really need to come off?
I know the coaches are sitting in the stands monitoring the individual performances, making fine judgements about how to strengthen and rebalance the team as the pressure mounts in the final quarter. To this day I don’t really feel I know the half of what’s going on, on the rugby field.
But it looked like England, having powered their way to a lead after a terrible start, had France on the rack, a foot on collective French neck, and then released the pressure. Any game between closely-matched teams is going to ebb and flow. Often when you get on top is when you relax, even if you don’t realise it. Maybe that’s why the subs came on. To keep up the pressure. But another ten minutes or so with Care and Hartley running the show might have made England unassailable.
The great thing about great contests. If, but, maybe, should’ve, could’ve…
England showed a lot of promise (Nowell and Burrell both did well, I thought), France showed they’ve still got the winning mentality. With Ireland and Wales winning as expected, England now have the catch-up challenge. They managed it during the France game and then fell at the last. Can they claw their way back over the five games and make it a four way battle for the Six Nations?
Got to say yes!
Impressive multi-tasking indeed, John – except for that bit when you brought on Oscar for Dylan Hartley.
I was going to raise a few muted objections to your “substitution” theory, but the normally mild-mannered Stuart Lancaster has done that rather more effectively. He makes a very cogent defence of his strategy in today’s Guardian (and I dare say everywhere else), some of which points up the very detailed thinking that lies in the background to these decisions – and which you, to be fair, acknowledge yourself.
With eight subs on the bench and every possible variation to consider – injury, temporary disablement (Farrell’s cramp a case in point), surges and losses of inspiration and creative thinking, and of course sheer stamina – this is, as Lancaster says, an inexact science. It did, I admit, look like more than a coincidence that England declined after Care and Hartley left, but if they’d tarried ten minutes too long and suddenly looked shot, Lancaster would have been faced with a grilling for completely different reasons.
Care, I must say, had an excellent match, and certainly redeemed himself in my eyes. Only his box-kicking remains maddeningly inconsistent, and seems so counter-productive. (If he has Farrell and Twelvetrees lined up behind him, why not tee up a big lunk from one of them?) But with his passing, he seems to get the ball away a lot quicker than he did, and his speed of thought was impressive throughout.
The most positive thing to come out of the eleventh-hour disaster of defeat is that they will surely want to take it out on Scotland in a big way. With the greatest respect to our friends north of the border, I hope they do.
Read the Guardian article. Convinced me I was right! Yeah, always a hard call, but he got it wrong big time with Danny. And I’m sure Oscar could throw a better lineout ball than Tom Youngs sometimes does!
Well, I hope they “claw” their way back!
It does sound like a good game, though, a lot better than the American Super Bowl (I know it’s different but it’s what we got to watch)
What a snore. I barely woke up for the half time show, however the “Red Hot Chili Peppers” woke me up in time to fall asleep for the second half. 🙂
When American Football (as we call it) was first shown on TV here in the 80s I watched it quite a lot. I’m sure if I lived in the US or Canada, it would be my favourite of the specialised American sports. But it tends to be on late and at four hours or so live, needs a bit of stamina. And it’s all set pieces – the constant improvisation and fluidity you get in rugby or football/soccer isn’t as immediately obvious. But as I say, I’d be well into it if I was on the other side of the Atlantic.
Reblogged this on The Breakdown.
Thanks for the reblog! Hope some of your readers find it interesting.