May is the man as freewheeling England trounce France

England player scored a first half hat-trick to make it two wins from two for Jones’s side

Jonny May of England touches down to score their second try during the Six Nations win over France. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Jonny May of England touches down to score their second try during the Six Nations win over France. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

England 44 France 8

Those wanting to know if England’s opening win in Dublin was a one-off now have their answer. Once again there was no stopping Eddie Jones’s rampant team from securing a convincing bonus-point victory, an outcome that sets up a tasty Six Nations grand slam eliminator with a similarly unbeaten Wales in Cardiff on Saturday week.

English optimism has a long history of dissolving across the Severn Bridge but a serious Welsh performance will be required to diminish England’s current confidence levels. The same collective pace, power and intent they showed in Ireland was evident on a blustery, occasionally damp afternoon, with Jonny May the main beneficiary. The Leicester wing’s hat-trick of tries in the opening 29 minutes made him the first Englishman to achieve the feat against France since Jake Jacob in 1924.

The home team were superior in all departments, kicking cleverly, hitting hard and finding acres of space in behind a slow-witted French defence. “Very painful,” was the verdict of the French captain, Guilhem Guirado, and, from a Gallic perspective, he was not wrong. Jones was careful not to go overboard afterwards, clearly determined to keep his players’ feet on the ground, but similarities with the plodding England team beaten 22-16 in Paris a year ago are increasingly hard to find.

Few players in world rugby are more improved than May, with Elliot Daly also enjoying a productive afternoon and Courtney Lawes further underlining the strength in depth at Jones’s disposal. If there was a nagging sense that New Zealand, for example, might have stuck 50 or 60 points on their opponents, the fact England still have obvious room for improvement will concern all their rivals.

The galloping advances the team are making under the leadership of Owen Farrell, who scored 17 points including his side’s sixth and final try, have not been so thrillingly obvious since England’s heyday in the early 2000s, not least in 2001 when they went down to Cardiff and won 44-15. No-one would be silly enough to predict a similarly one-sided contest this time but even a scrappy away win would leave just Italy and Scotland standing between Farrell’s men and a second grand slam in four years under Jones.

The most immediate priority for all their opponents will to end England’s remarkable record of early tries, which has now seen them touch down within three minutes of kick-off in their last five Tests. Inside 66 seconds May had his first try on the board, touching down Elliot Daly’s intelligent left-footed grubber after the Saracens-bound full-back had made swift ground following a midfield turnover.

Almost every day is currently a May Day at Twickenham and before the half-hour mark the 28-year-old had extended his tally to 12 tries in his last 12 Tests. First he showed dazzling footwork to outwit Damian Penaud to score in the left corner before successfully scooping up Chris Ashton’s chip ahead to complete his hat-trick. May possesses a unique talent - but even the quicksilver ex-Wales wing Shane Williams would have been proud of this particular treble.

Penaud did make slight amends with a 35th-minute try set up by Yoann Huget but when the classy Henry Slade dummied his way past Guirado to claim his side’s bonus point try just before half-time the game was effectively over with 40 minutes still to play. While France may have squandered a 16-0 point half-time lead against Wales in Paris, England were never going to surrender their 30-8 interval advantage here.

A penalty try and a yellow card for Gael Fickou when a sprinting Ashton was tackled without the ball with the line beckoning merely added to French woe and the last half hour was largely a question of how much damage England would ultimately inflict. In the event there was only one more try for Farrell after May, for the umpteenth time, had burned off the French cover. If there was a slight debate as to whether the last defender, Antoine Dupont, was impeded by England’s flier as he vainly tried to gather the rolling ball, there was no disputing Farrell’s fitness or desire which jointly ensured he was first to the rebound.

Even a brief touchline scuffle sparked by Kyle Sinckler throwing an arm at Arthur Iturria did little to rouse the less than irresistible visitors. It was another of those days for France, who had travelled without much in the way of hope and ended up largely stripped of their dignity. They have now won just three of their last 19 Tests and their head coach Jacques Brunel is edging into the kind of uneasy territory which cost his predecessor Guy Noves his job. Typing Brunel’s name always reminds some of us of his near namesake Jean-Jacques Burnel, the bass guitarist of The Stranglers. Forty years on, sadly, we are also reaching the point where French rugby has no more heroes any more.

On this evidence it will certainly rank among the more startling about-turns in rugby history if this result is somehow reversed when the two sides meet again in their World Cup pool game in Yokohama this autumn. The final scoreline was also England’s record margin of victory against Les Bleus in Six Nations history and will be particularly fondly remembered by the Wasps scrum-half Dan Robson who finally made it off the bench for the last 11 minutes to earn a long-awaited first cap as a replacement for Ben Youngs. With the possible exception of prop Mako Vunipola, who sat out the closing stages with an enormous ice pack on his ankle, England could hardly be in healthier shape for their tournament-defining visit to Cardiff. – Guardian service

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