Six Nations 2015

/ Verdict

England 55-35 France
Why Six Nations anguish must be making of England
Tom Hamilton at Twickenham
March 21, 2015
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In the end it was a case of England winning the battle but losing the war. As Ireland toasted their second Six Nations championship in as many years, England were pondering those horrible 'what ifs': the disallowed try at the end of the match in Dublin, the squandered chances against Scotland, Stuart Hogg's inability to ground the ball at the death.

But to look back at previous encounters would do a gross disservice to this most remarkable game. It was a match without rhyme nor reason. It was frenetic, exhilarating, error-strewn self-indulgence. The pragmatic French who had conceded just two tries in the championship shipped seven. England were their own worst enemies at times with the French counter-attack punishing handling errors, but while they did not win the title, this could be a seminal moment for this group of players.

Four points was England's slender lead when they woke up at their Bagshot base. As Wales ran around Rome and Ireland continued clocking up the points at Murrayfield, red and green haymakers were pummelling England's title hopes with every dart over the line or kick through the posts. By the time Jules Plisson kicked off at Twickenham the four-point lead had turned into a 26-point deficit.

It was a tough order, given France had a miserly defence but England attacked with wonderful abandon. It was one in the eye for those who are pushing conservative, restrictive schools of thought in top-level rugby.

There was an inevitability that on the Saturday of all Saturdays in the Six Nations era, it would go down to the final throws of the match. England fell short but there should be a huge feeling of pride within the squad for how they sliced open the French.

 
"There were no fireworks at full-time. The sight of white smoke billowing from Twickenham will have to wait until October at the earliest "
 

It came down to the odd dropped pass, a lapse in concentration here and there and perhaps pushing the pace of the match a little too early. But in Ben Youngs, England had the best player on the field. The Leicester scrum-half took his two tries superbly but if there was a break made by England it would either have been instigated by Youngs or he'd be there on their shoulder screaming for the pass.

Like the rest of his team, he was brave and dangerous. Billy Vunipola carried brilliantly throughout while Mike Brown teetered on the edge but just kept on going. Jack Nowell also came of age on the wing while Dylan Hartley had his best game of the championship.

Such buoyancy in the face of another silverware-less Six Nations for England seemed unlikely when France went 15-7 up after 18 minutes. At that stage the atmosphere inside Twickenham died a death; it wasn't meant to be like that. The French, who had been so out of sorts, had suddenly found their license for Gallic flair. But what they had in attack, they lacked in defence.

Then came the hit from Courtney Lawes on Plisson and the oscillating game swung in a new direction. It was England who were in the right areas, ball in hand, scoring tries. France were also potent with the brilliant Noa Nakaitaci enjoying the freedom of the pitch. They played the role perfectly, buying into the open nature of the occasion and even tried to ease the damage in the final play of the match when they tapped and went off their own tryline.

Now comes the post-mortem. Andy Farrell will no doubt look at the 35 points England shipped and bemoan their lapses. James Haskell's sin-bin was silly. But scoring 55 points against a team other than Italy in the Six Nations takes some doing. They threw off the shackles of nervousness and went for it, it was a joy to watch. But again, England are the Six Nations bridesmaids. The coveted Six Nations trophy is still agonisingly elusive.

There were no fireworks at full-time. The sight of white smoke billowing from Twickenham will have to wait until October at the earliest but this needs to be a springboard for the team; a fresh start. The attention now turns to the bigger prize on offer in October. Rugby World Cups are normally decided by pragmatic rugby but please can we have more of this. It was emotional turbulence at its very finest. Rugby, bloody hell.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.
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