England’s ruthless side on show as they crush their victims

Owen Farrell and his gang of enforcers are beginning to look like real world-beaters

England’s Jonny May scores their second try despite Damian Penaud of France during the Six Nations clash at Twickenham. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

England’s Jonny May scores their second try despite Damian Penaud of France during the Six Nations clash at Twickenham. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

This Six Nations is starting to feel like a slasher flick, with England ticking off their victims one by one. They are taking bloody revenge on everyone who beat them in 2018, Ireland last week, and France this. This was another pitiless performance.

The idea France might surprise them, and everyone else, was shattered in the opening 60 seconds with a couple of nightmare tackles. Yoann Huget ran smack into both Vunipolas. He may as well have burst in on the Krays in the back room of the Blind Beggar. Then Guilhem Guirado was splattered by Courtney Lawes. Guirado coughed up the ball like he had been choking on it and someone had just whacked him on the back. Take that.

France were reeling already. And here came Jonny May and Eliott Daly, scalpels out, speeding down the left wing, which seemed, all of a sudden, to have opened up in front of them as the French defenders scrambled to make their ground. When Eddie Jones explained why he had picked Chris Ashton on the wing ahead of Jack Nowell he said it was because he had a feeling he would sneak the team an early try. Turned out that was a feint. It was not England’s right that landed on the French, but their left instead. Daly slipped out of a tackle from Camille Lopez during a lovely, jinking run, and then threaded a grubber kick through for May to chase. All he had to do was tap it down.

So just over a minute in, England were leading, and there was already an irresistible feeling about which way the match was going, the result as inevitable as the black rain clouds coming over from behind the West Stand. The rain arrived midway through the half. It did not dampen England’s play in any way.

Cunning switchback

It was May’s 20th try for England, which brought him level with Ashton in eighth place on their all-time list. Twenty minutes later, May overtook him, just like he did all those French defenders. His second try was made by Owen Farrell, who ran a cunning switchback and then threw a sweet 15-yard pass that left May squaring off with France’s young wing Damian Penaud. For a second they both stood a yard apart, each watching the other, and waiting for the draw. May twitched left, then right, and then set off on his left again. Penaud, who had been turned inside-out, turned the right way around just in time to watch him score.

May scores England’s third try. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
May scores England’s third try. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

The third, minutes later, was the easiest of the lot. Morgan Parra spilled a high kick, Ashton gathered it, glanced up, and then stabbed through a little chip for May to collect. So that was the hat-trick. It took him just under 30 minutes. It was not the fastest ever scored by an Englishman in the Six Nations - it was not long ago Jonathan Joseph made one in 17 minutes against Italy, and Austin Healey once scored one in just 10 minutes against them too. But it was the first an Englishman had ever made in the first half of a match, and the first for an Englishman against the French since 1924.

It won May the man-of-the-match award, though he did make one conspicuous mistake. He missed a tackle on Huget in the run-up to France’s try. England are such nit-pickers these days that you guess that error will be almost as galling for him as the tries were gratifying, because May is one of the players who seems to have responded best to Jones’s ruthless perfectionism.

Headless chicken

May used to seem like a bit a headless chicken on the pitch, running this way and that, sideways and back, but he has grown into a ruthless finisher. He is a real roadrunner of a wing, now, always three steps ahead of whatever clunking traps Wile E Coyote’s laid for him. “Jonny,” Jones said, “is one of the hardest working guys in our team.”

He needs to be, Jones explained, because England have so much competition for places in the back three. Ashton was superb too, even if he could not catch a break. He almost scored once when he was clean through at the end of an overlap, but he fumbled Manu Tuilagi’s one-handed pass. Then Ashton had another near-miss when he was chasing down Farrell’s kick through, but he was hauled down by Gaël Fickou. England got a penalty try instead. But still, if May got all the glory, Ashton’s all-round contribution stood out too.

England’s back three were a class apart from France’s but then Jacques Brunel had not done himself any favours when he decided to put a couple of centres, Penaud and Fickou on the wings, and a wing, Huget, at full-back. Anyone who wants to beat this England team, when they are in this form, will need to come armed with a better plan than that. – Guardian service

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