Eddie Jones looking for the appropriate response from England
After the loss to Scotland, coach expects his side to show their character in Paris
Eddie Jones: “It is the first time we have had the team together after a loss. How we respond to it is important.” Photograph: Olly Greenwood/AFP/Getty
By the time England emerge from the dressing rooms at the cavernous Stade de France their Six Nations title prospects could be floating away down the Seine.
For the first time in the Eddie Jones era they are playing catch-up and a bonus-point win for Ireland over Scotland in Dublin today would all but conclude the title race.
The bigger picture can temporarily wait as far as England’s players and management are concerned. Jones is not even trying to downplay the standalone significance of this Anglo-French collision, a contest his side badly need to win for their own peace of mind.
“It is an important game for us,” said Jones, seeking a vigorous reaction to the Murrayfield meltdown. “It is the first time we have had the team together after a loss. How we respond to it is important.”
This latest version of Le Crunch, for that reason alone, has a renewed edge. England’s trips to Edinburgh and Paris in this championship, as predicted in these columns before the Scotland defeat, were always likely to be character-building and certain traditions never change.
“You know every time you play against the French it is a test of your manhood,” Jones said. “We have to be brutal against them. You hear those old stories from club rugby when they deliberately kick the ball into touch from the kick-off because they want to scrum you. It’s not like that now but it’s still an area that will decide how much energy they have in their game. We have to beat them in those areas.”
All of which leaves England’s forwards little room for manoeuvre. Finish second best to a side who have not made the top half of the Six Nations table since 2011 and a blunt reassessment of England’s 2019 World Cup prospects will commence. Display the lack of intensity and tactical doziness which undid them in the first half against Scotland and Les Bleus will scent more rosbif blood.
“They are the European version of the South Africans; they are big, physical and they want to hurt you,” Jones said.
It suddenly seems a while since England clinched their long-awaited 2016 Grand Slam on this same pitch. Dylan Hartley, Mike Brown and Jonathan Joseph have gone from the starting XV, Owen Farrell will be leading England out as captain for the first time and never before has Jones had to contend with a mid-tournament defeat.
“The defeat to Scotland hurt the boys a lot and took a little bit of time to get over,” said Ben Te’o, back starting in midfield alongside the promoted Farrell.
Not everything, clearly, is doom and gloom. France are far from the world’s greatest side and, for all their individual potential, have beaten England only once in the championship anywhere since 2010.
Anyone who imagines England will play as loosely or frenetically as Italy did in Marseille does not know Jones very well; in terms of organisation and fitness, England should still possess a clear edge.
That said, Paris is seldom the most comfortable of destinations for English sides, even if Jones avoids the crowded Sunday morning Eurostar home. For all the good times they have enjoyed there have also been some horror shows, not least the 31-6 annihilation in 2006 and the 36-0 World Cup pool drubbing by South Africa the following year.
Even England’s most recent winning margins at the Stade de France have been slim; they have registered only one championship victory in Saint Denis by more than a score this century. A red rose on a white jersey is a red rag to virtually every opponent, particularly a pumped-up France on home soil.
“For an England team to win a Grand Slam is much harder than for the others – it just is,” the former England captain Will Carling once said. “The chances are that at least one team every season will play an absolute blinder against you and you are never quite sure where it is going to come from.”
England can only hope they have already taken receipt of this year’s bolt from the blue. The continued exclusion of a sizeable French contingent following a distinctly messy night out in Edinburgh has done little to reduce the swirl of distractions around Jacques Brunel’s squad and the recall of François Trinh-Duc at 10 is the latest desperate attempt to restore some order amid the chaos.
“In rugby terms they play better than us but if we stop them playing, work hard at the breakdown and are aggressive in defence like Scotland were then we can make it difficult for them,” Trinh-Duc said. “It will be hard and rough but we have qualities that we need to show.”
It does not require a degree in psychology from the Sorbonne to identify where France will primarily be focusing. They will be particularly keen to examine England’s scrum in the absence of Hartley, see if they can send the human juggernaut that is Mathieu Bastareaud down George Ford’s channel and investigate whether Farrell, who got D in French at GCSE, can be ruffled as he was in the tunnel before the Calcutta Cup.
“After a loss you are always a little bit more emotional,” Jones said. England will need all the collective sang-froid they can muster.
At least the weather forecast has improved slightly from its original Jacques Cousteau setting but the playing surface will matter less to England than their leaders’ top two inches. Without two of Jones’s “glue” players this is not the moment to come unstuck mentally. Nor can the potential benefits of a bounce-back victory be allowed to obscure the job in hand.
Beat France with a four-try flourish and Scotland suddenly becomes a blip. If Ireland can then be defeated at Twickenham next week the landscape will once again be transformed. Jones insists he is “not a magician” but who knows for certain what will unfold in Dublin?
Amid all the bonus-point conjecture – whether or not Ireland tie up the title prematurely it is important to reward teams for positive intent – there is also the minor detail of England and France occupying the same RWC 2019 pool in Japan. England cannot afford to lose, regardless of events elsewhere. – Guardian
FRANCE: H Bonneval (Toulon); B Fall (Montpellier), M Bastareaud (Toulon), G Doumayrou (La Rochelle), R Grosso (Clermont Auvergne); F Trinh-Duc (Toulon), M Machenaud (Racing 92); J Poirot (Bordeaux-Begles), G Guirado (Toulon, capt), R Slimani (Clermont Auvergne), P Gabrillagues (Stade Francais), S Vahaamahina (Clermont Auvergne), W Lauret (Racing 92), Y Camara (Montpellier), M Tauleigne (Bordeaux-Begles).
Replacements: A Pelissie (Bordeaux-Begles), D Priso (La Rochelle), C Gomes Sa (Racing 92), R Taofifenua (Toulon), K Galletier (Montpellier), B Couilloud (Lyon), L Beauxis (Lyon), G Fickou (Toulouse).
ENGLAND: A Watson (Bath); J May (Leicester), B Te’o (Worcester), O Farrell (Saracens, capt), E Daly (Wasps); G Ford (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins); M Vunipola (Saracens), J George (Saracens), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), M Itoje (Saracens), C Lawes (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins), N Hughes (Wasps).
Replacements: L Cowan-Dickie (Exeter), J Marler (Harlequins), K Sinckler (Harlequins), J Haskell (Wasps), S Simmonds (Exeter), R Wigglesworth (Saracens), J Joseph (Bath), M Brown (Harlequins).
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa).