Wasn’t this meant to be Eddie’s fault? ‘Exposed’ England walloped by France, Wales win battle of also rans

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England have been overwhelmed 53-10 by France at Twickenham in a record home defeat that removed them from Six Nations title contention and delivered an alarming reality check to coach Steve Borthwick’s rebuilding project.

Trailing 27-3 at halftime – also their highest interval deficit at Twickenham in any fixture – they were in the midst of full-blown crisis on Saturday, having been taken apart up front.

Thomas Ramos, Thibaud Flament and Charles Ollivon had crossed with alarming ease and England looked completely lost as fault lines opened in their defence, kicking, breakdown and discipline.

The arrival of Owen Farrell and Alex Mitchell off the bench early in the second half came amid a fightback that produced a try for Freddie Steward, but it was short-lived as Flament, Ollivon and Damian Penaud propelled France further in front.

The gulf between the rivals was embarrassing as the World Cup hosts registered their first Six Nations victory at Twickenham since 2005 in a glorious return to form after they’d laboured through much of the tournament.

And it only gets harder for Borthwick’s men as, having faced the team positioned second in the global rankings, they must travel to Dublin next Saturday to take on grand slam-chasing Ireland, who occupy the summit.

Marcus Smith did everything he could, having ousted Farrell at fly-half, but with his forwards dismantled at every turn he was powerless to halt the collapse.

“Certainly you have to give immense credit to France and they are clearly a world class team,” said Borthwick.

“We are really disappointed in that performance, there are lots of things we wanted to do but but we couldn’t execute.

“I think we lost collisions across both lines, attack and defence. We knew they have immense power and unfortunately we didn’t deal with it. When we attacked they were able to dominate. There is plenty of work on the collision areas

“We got exposed today. I thought we would get a measure of where we are at, there is a big gap between us and the top teams in the world. I don’t think it matters what I thought it [the gap] was before, I think we understand where we are and what we have to do.”

For all the talk of England playing with pace, it was France who raced out of the blocks and when lock Paul Willemse offloaded out of the tackle they were away, with Ethan Dumortier sending Ramos over in the left corner.

Ramos added a penalty to reward another Les Bleus attack and with only 10 minutes on the clock it was already looking bleak for the hosts.

England were hamstrung by their discipline at the breakdown and apart from a forceful run by Steward they were struggling to make any impression as rain began to fall.

Antoine Dupont grew in influence as he weaved his magic around the ruck but it was the power of forwards Francois Cros and Flament that did the damage for the next try.

Flament crossed in the 26th minute but it was too easy for the lock as passive England were overpowered in contact.

And their scrum defence was horribly exposed in first-half injury-time when Gregory Alldritt charged forward and seeing blue shirts lined up in support, sent Ollivon crashing over.

Damian Penaud of France celebrates early as he sees a clear path to scoring their 5th try during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby match between England and France at Twickenham Stadium on March 11, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Damian Penaud of France celebrates as he runs away to score the fifth try.  (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

England needed to act quickly and hope appeared to have arrived when Smith delivered a terrific kick on the run for Max Malins but the wing knocked-on over the line.

It was now France’s defence that was disintegrating and after waves of attacks they were breached with Steward riding a tackle to slide over.

England quickly renewed their attack but the fightback faltered when a cruel bounce deceived their backfield defence, allowing Romain Ntamack to flick the ball to Flament who scored.

And there was more misfortune when Smith was driven over his line by Dupont as he covered for a kick and Ollivon touched down when he let go of the ball before two late tries by wing Penaud drove the final nail into England’s coffin.

French coach Fabien Galthie was in tears aftwards.

“Yes I realise what we have done. I’ve been coming here since I was 20,” he said. “We played the way we wanted to play. We didn’t know exactly how but we had that drive. And doing it here, in this context – it didn’t happen by chance. We’ve been working together with these players. It shows we’re on the right path.

“It’s tough for them when you know how important rugby is in England.”

Wales win battle of the spoon

Italy are headed for another familiar last-place finish in the Six Nations.

The Azzurri paid the price for yet another slow start and then losing two players to the sin-bin, sinking to a 29-17 defeat to Wales in a match billed as a wooden spoon decider on Saturday.

That’s a fourth straight loss in this championship for Italy, who need to win in Scotland next weekend in the final round to stand a chance of avoiding finishing bottom of the standings.

The likelihood is, however, the Italians will be last for an eighth straight year in the Six Nations and the 18th time in 24 editions since joining the northern hemisphere tournament in 2000.

Their 25th successive Six Nations home loss had its origins in another, now-trademark sloppy first half, with Wales — piloted by the excellent Rhys Webb at scrumhalf in his first Test start in three years — soaring ahead 10-0 after 10 minutes and a 22-3 lead by halftime.

Wales turned round with a man advantage, after Italy No. 8 Lorenzo Cannone pulled down a 34th-minute maul on the try line to give away a penalty try and earn a yellow card.

They then benefitted from the 46th-minute sin-binning of home winger Pierre Bruno for leading with his left forearm into the throat of Wales prop Wyn Jones.

Webb sent in No. 8 Taulupe Faletau for the bonus-point fourth try in the 50th, enough to give them their first points of the championship and a first win in the second reign of Warren Gatland after earlier losses to Ireland, Scotland and England.

“There’s still a massive amount of growth in this team, in terms of them going forward,” Gatland said of Wales after again rotating his line-up.

“A lot of players will have learned a lot about themselves today and it wasn’t a bad Italian side.”

Wales, who have to travel to Paris to face France in their last match, have five points and Italy are on one.

The Italians played some exciting stuff again, with second-half tries by flanker Sebastian Negri and centre Juan Ignacio Brex the least they deserved for matching Wales for large parts of the game at Stadio Olimpico.

Brex’s try in the 68th set up a frantic finale and Italy had enough possession and territory to grab two more tries and take the win. Poor handling cost them dear after a slew of line breaks.

Gatland reserved special praise for Webb, who — in his first Six Nations start since 2017 — controlled the game with his kicking and made some darting breaks around the fringes. 

It was the his kick into the left corner that got a fortunate bounce and was collected by winger Rio Dyer for the opening try in the ninth minute.

“His decision-making was excellent,” Gatland said of Webb. “He didn’t force anything and kept us on the front foot.”


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