Monday, February 03, 2014
It was all going so well. With 74 minutes on the clock in Paris, England found themselves five points ahead after a valiant fightback that had seen them recoup an early 13 point deficit.
Enter Gael Fickou. A brilliant finish from the young centre in the 76th minute broke English hearts and consigned them to an opening day defeat when it looked for all the money in the world that they had done enough to pull off an impressive win.
But why were France allowed back into the game?
Serious questions have to be asked about England’s bench – both its composition and the way it was used.
When Jonny May went off injured early on, Alex Goode was brought on at fullback with Mike Brown shifting to the wing. England’s best back in the last year found himself playing out of position, once again, and his replacement at fullback was at fault for France’s second try at the end of the first quarter.
Goode has been unfairly singled out for criticism in the past, but on this occasion he was very poor.
Even more bizarre than Goode’s selection, however, was the way Stuart Lancaster used the rest of his bench.
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He chose to substitute pretty much all of England’s top performers, and in doing so stilted the momentum they had so obviously been building up.
After seeming shell-shocked in the first quarter, the visitors had roared back into the game and at the heart of this were two men – Danny Care and Billy Vunipola.
Why, then, were these two subbed off in the 61st and 65th minute respectively? England’s dominance was reversed and the French sensed a way back into the match.
Brad Barritt was brought on for Jack Nowell, leaving England with no recognised wingers on the pitch. Is it any surprise that France’s winning try was scored down the wing where Luther Burrell – an excellent centre but a bit-part winger at best – was supposed to be defending?
Barritt may be a brilliant defender, but is it really worth bringing him on if it means having to shift a centre out of position to the wing?
Earlier on, the excellent Joe Marler and Dylan Hartley had also vacated the front row with Mako Vunipola and Tom Youngs taking their places.
Vunipola and Youngs senior are excellent players in their own right, but where they excel is in the loose – their set-piece play can be shaky at times, and against a pack as imposing as the French it seemed a strange decision.
Predictably, England began to suffer in the scrum and line-out and French confidence continued to grow as England failed to set a platform from which to drive home their dominance.
So while there were plenty of positives for England to take away from Paris, there were no points. Lancaster must look at his bench policy ahead of the Scotland game next weekend.
Copyright : metro.co.uk