Rugby Union

What do England do now after French defeat?

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The second test in Paris was one of two distinct reactions that need to be put in context. One was that this was the worst England performance under Stuart Lancaster, and at what point do we accept that we do not have the personnel to win the World Cup?

The second was that our heroic comeback to a respectable score line redeemed the first 70 minutes. It did not. What it did do, however, was highlight the performances of the subs and, frustratingly, cause more selection headaches than was the case before the game.

The team that was fielded was perceived to be England's strongest XV. Before the changes at 60ish minutes it was a performance of desperate defence, poor physicality, dire discipline and panicked kicking. There was no evidence that these players had participated in an extensive training camp.

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The lineout, so long a strength for England, fell to pieces. Jamie George now looks poised to continue his meteoric rise from fifth choice hooker to the go-to man. While untested, his throwing coincided with an upturn in clean possession and he looked dynamic as ever around the field.

The strike moves deployed by the back division were head scratching. Compared to last week's glorious first phase try, the mid-field looked clunky and ponderous, and too often just drifted into a rampant French wave. Our dummy lines failed to hold defenders and merely saw to displace our clear out options. Against more clinical sides at the breakdown this will exposed to an even greater degree.

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The positives for the starting lineup were that Jack Nowell looked strong in getting go-forward from unfavourable scenarios and was physical in defence. Luther Burrell looked keen to spark something with big hits and strong running lines. Mike Brown looked solid under the high ball after a long lay-off, and Courtney Lawes did what he does best and chopped down trees with venom.

But the negatives were many. Billy Vunipola had the worst game I've ever seen from him. He appeared reluctant to carry at times and was over eager to offload aimlessly. Robshaw was largely anonymous and England's lack of a breakdown specialist continues to grow as a worry. We will do well to secure any ball against an Australian side likely to field Pocock and Hooper. Jonathan Joseph showed his class on a couple of occasions, but too often looked disjointed and out of sorts, and Jonny May looked light a deer in the headlights under the high ball. 

George Ford did everything he could to play himself out of a starting place except, oddly for him, for kicking well from the tee. It took an injection of fresh forward ballast and an inspired Danny Cipriani to get him onto the gainline where he is so clinical and effective. But overall, compared to Farrell last week, and Cirpriani this, he looks out of his depth when the pack does not give him an ideal platform. The worry is that it is realistically too late to try Cipriani as a fly half.

Clive Woodward said of Danny Cipriani that he should have been England's starting 10 for "the past two years." That may be overstating for some, but his appearances in that time frame have been high on quality but low on game time.

With only one game remaining before entering the toughest group in the history of the World Cup, selection will be vital.

Here is my selection:

1. Joe Marler - Vunipola looked good around the field once again, but his scrummaging is still a question mark. Marler needs to get match fit.

2. Jamie George - He appears to be the best thrower in the squad and he needs to be tested under international pressure.

3. Dan Cole - He is England's starting tighthead and is crucial for getting over the ball.

4. Joe Launchbury - The starting locks are probably set in stone and need game time. Attwood will look to feature strongly off the bench once again.

5. Courtney Lawes - As above.

6. James Haskell - He has been in the form of his life and will need to show his strength against the likes of Sean O'Brien.

7. Chris Robshaw - As England's captain he needs to build some leadership momentum before the World Cup.

8. Ben Morgan - After an appalling outing from Billy Vunipola a strong showing here would make the Gloucester man the starting 8.

9. Ben Youngs - Hopefully with a better showing from the pack he can show what he can do. France did not allow any scrum half chance to shine. Care will again look to add spark from the bench

10. George Ford - It's unfortunately too late to change horse at this stage. England will need to hope that he can play as he did in the Six Nations and that Paris was just a blip. Owen Farrell will probably be backup.

11. Anthony Watson - his time at full back will put him in a better position to deal with the Irish kick chase than Jonny May. He looked sharp for England in his game and could move ahead of May with a similar performance.

12. Henry Slade - The Exeter Chief has all the class and composure that England dearly lacked in Paris. It is time to put him under the microscope and having him and his huge boot outside Ford takes the pressure off somewhat.

13. Jonathan Joseph - He is the most potent attacking threat in England's backline and needs more time to find his way into play.

14. Jack Nowell - Looked strong in a weak team against France and will be on the first team sheet for the foreseeable.

15. Mike Brown - Clearly the first choice going forward and desperately needs game time having only played once since March.

Playing the number two ranked side in the world may not look like such a good idea off the heels of England's worst performance in recent memory; but strong outings in key positions could make the selection hierarchy much clearer. England shouldn't be written off for 2015 but there is no doubt they are on the ropes.

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Topics:
France Rugby
Rugby Union
England Rugby
IRB Rugby World Cup

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