France prevent England doing double in Rugby World Cup warm-up
France restored some pride by holding off England, despite a fightback from Stuart Lancaster’s side in Paris, in the second of their Rugby World Cup warm-up test double header to run out 25-20 winners.
In what was the host nation’s last outing before having to name their final squad for the tournament, the English could not quite follow up on their first summer outing – a 19-14 victory over the French at Twickenham.
Coral make England 5/4 favourites to top Rugby World Cup Pool A, and defeat in the Stade de France does not diminish that status, as Lancaster named an experimental line-up largely different to their initial encounter with Les Bleus.
A mixture of old hands and new faces were named in the XV, most notably a return for full back Mike Brown after missing much of the recent international action through to concussion.
Saracens hooker Jamie George allowed for a steady line-out, whilst centre Jonathan Joseph showed some quick wits in scrappy play. Despite this, the visitors struggled against their cross-Channel foes, as home side France overpowered England.
Stronger in the scrum and utterly dominant in possession, seeing 80 per cent of the ball, France invited ill-discipline from their opponents, benefiting to the tune of five penalties, predominantly kicked by Freddie Michalak.
South African-born Scott Spedding also punished England, leaving Les Bleus enjoying a 15-6 half-time advantage – a deficit which would ultimately prove too great to overturn. Luther Burrell had a torrid time at centre on what may have been his last chance to show Lancaster his potential ahead of the World Cup.
George Ford was better for England, though, with his kicking helping to get points on the board. After the interval France extended their lead through quick feet from Yoann Huget. Michalak’s subsequent conversion made the score 22-6.
Despite Lancaster ringing second-half changes, including the introductions of Danny Cipriani and Billy Twelvetrees, another cheap penalty to Les Bleus from a line-out gave Michalak another chance to kick points, which he did and effectively seal victory.
Cipriani finally had the chance to show he could be in the World Cup squad by getting England’s first try from a driving maul, with good passing down the line to the wing. Another strong conversion from Ford reduced their arrears to 25-13.
Jonathan Joseph also crossed after 79 minutes, but the comeback came just too late. Lacklustre for much of the match, this alternative England had few standout performers.
Brown, back in the XV, should have caught Lancaster’s eye with an industrious display, while Nick Easter did well at number eight agaianst a hard-hitting French defence.
Strong from start to finish, this was more like it from Les Bleus after a disappointing Six Nations campaign in the winter and spring. Michalak may have established himself as first-choice kicker after the previously profligate performance of Morgan Parra.
At 7/2 to be Rugby World Cup winners, England need a stronger starting XV to give themselves a better chance when they face Ireland on September 5th after confirming their roster.