Sir Clive Woodward hammers England for defeat to France in Six Nations opener

England v South Africa - Rugby World Cup 2019 Final

England's Six Nations campaign could hardly have got off to a worse start yesterday, following a 24-17 defeat at the hands of France in their opening fixture. 

France - a side who have typically finished in the bottom half of the championship table in recent years - dominated England for much of their encounter at the Stade de France. Indeed, the margin of victory could have been far larger were it not for two late tries from winger Jonny May.

Eddie Jones' side outperformed expectations by reaching the final of last year's World Cup - and had been widely tipped to come away from Saint-Denis with a victory. One man who it seems was not so confident of success, though, was England's former World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward.

Speaking in his blog for, Woodward revealed that he had great reservations about both Jones' team selection and England's ability to play to their potential in their first fixture since losing the World Cup final to South Africa back in November.

"It gives me no great pleasure to say I saw this coming. France are on the up and, already sharpened by the arrival of (new defensive coach) Shaun Edwards, defended well at key moments.

"England arrived with the wrong team and clearly have not yet shaken off that depressing World Cup final result...Given all that, I was surprised at the confidence some pundits were showing in an England victory."

Woodward was particularly concerned by some of Jones' tactical choices leading into the match, including the decision not to pick a specialist number 8, which left Tom Curry - usually a flanker - struggling to deal with France's Charles Ollivon and Gregory Alldritt all afternoon.

"The experiment of playing Tom Curry at No 8 and Courtney Lawes at six just didn’t work. Alex Dombrandt, who should have been in the squad from the off, needs to come in for the Scotland game as a starter and Curry must return to his normal spot at blindside with Lawes on the bench."

England struggled to break down the French defence, even when in strong field position, and Woodward was critical of the effectiveness of Leicester scrum half Ben Youngs - arguing that France had to do very little to kept him in check.

France v England - Guinness Six Nations

"England lacked a strong ball carrier off the base or somebody to make some hard yards and off-load, all of which sets defences problems. Yesterday, all France had to do was keep an eye on Ben Youngs, who wasn’t enjoying a great game and was offering little threat from the base. The French defence has improved but England made it so easy for them," suggested Woodward.

England's cause was certainly not helped by the latest in a long line of groin injuries to Manu Tuilagi, who departed Sunday's match after just 16 minutes. Tuilagi is now a doubt for Sunday's clash with Scotland at Murrayfield.

Jones may well have had a ready-made replacement in the form of Saracens centre Nick Tompkins had they moved quicker to secure his eligibility. Instead, however, the 24-year-old made his Wales debut against Italy on Saturday - qualifying by virtue of Welsh family connections. Woodward was quick to point out the missed opportunity.

"Inside centre is dependant on Manu Tuilagi’s fitness. If he is ruled out, that could bring in Ollie Devoto, but what a shame England have somehow let Wales sneak in on the blindside to cap Saracens centre Nick Tompkins, who made an excellent debut at the Principality Stadium on Saturday."

Wales v Italy - Guinness Six Nations

One man who did make his Test debut for England this weekend was Northampton's George Furbank. The full back unfortunately had an afternoon to forget against the French though.

Firstly, the 23-year-old struggled to contain French winger Teddy Thomas in the build up to the first try of the match. Things would then get worse for Furbank as he fumbled a pass with England in a prime attacking position as they looked to get back into the game. Still young in his career, Woodward would liked to have seen Furbank given a little longer to mature at club level before being given an introduction to international rugby.

"George Furbank looked as though he was brought in a season too early and overall it was all a bit messy, with England looking like a side not quite at ease with themselves and their roles," Woodward said of a wayward-looking England side.

Woodward did not just restrict his critiques to more junior members of the squad either - blasting the performance of Owen Farrell as the worst he has seen him put in for his country in his 79 appearances.


Owen Farrell endured the worst game I have seen him produce for England, but I would back him to come good and, indeed, I would move him to 10, which means a slot at outside centre for Jonathan Joseph.

Eddie Jones has much to ponder ahead of Saturday's Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland at Murrayfield. For all of his recent success with England, Woodward believes that Jones now needs to return to basics and focus on one match at a time as he seeks to rebuild confidence and belief within the camp.

"Eddie Jones has a really challenging week ahead now because England were well beaten.

"In just two high pressurised games of rugby all the mystique, magic and confidence of this England team has been totally dismantled and it just shows what can happen the moment you get ahead of yourself and get distracted."

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