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HomeSportsMatt Dawson column: France win was a lightbulb moment for England

Matt Dawson column: France win was a lightbulb moment for England

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Matt Dawson

Saturday’s win against France was a lightbulb moment for England.

There is something there that has clicked for them that they had been missing before in the 2021 Six Nations.

There is a lot that came together that England have obviously been working on for a while.

It needed a slight change of attitude and for the stars to align – and they did. England deserve the credit for it.

The players showed a lot of personal pride in the way that they played the game. It looked like everybody had had a long, hard look in the mirror for two weeks after losses to Scotland and Wales.

Each person looked at what they bring to the England environment, then they went out and showed it against France.

Now it is whether they have the confidence and the mental capacity to be able to do that every single game, to bottle up whatever it took to get them to that mindset against France. I think they do.

I felt for England fans because the roof would have been off Twickenham if they had been there, but hopefully they still loved watching it from home.

It was sensational rugby. If that is how games are going to be for the next couple of years going towards the 2023 World Cup then we are in for a great time.

‘England’s superstars gave superstar moments’

England’s superstar players gave them superstar moments. It was Mako and Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje, Tom Curry, little breaks from Ben Youngs, George Ford up in the face of the opposition.

Owen Farrell’s intensity in defence and general work-rate was impressive. Anthony Watson gave little moments of momentum. You can see them galvanising the team into how they should be playing.

This is how they want to play for England. They don’t want to be box-kicking the whole time and waiting for a counter-attack. They want to be a bit more harum scarum.

Youngs in particular looked like someone had poked him with a cattle prod. I am sure it was partly because everyone had been talking about France scrum-half Antoine Dupont all week.

He also would have been looking over his shoulder and seeing that Elliot Daly and Jamie George had been demoted to the bench.

It is going to be very easy to say the game is moving away from Youngs, but he has always had the skills, eye for a gap and a great engine.

‘Changed style difficult to fault’

The intensity, the discipline and the manner in which England wanted to play looked so free-flowing and enjoyable.

It is difficult to fault because France are a quality team and matched fire with fire.

England went behind, bounced straight back and got control of the game. Then they came from behind at the death to win with Itoje’s late try.

They have proved to us that that squad is able to run games strategically.

England players and coaches have realised that teams have very quickly cottoned on to their style of play.

They now know that if a team competes up front, England are going to struggle because before they did not have that mindset to really go out and play from anywhere.

England have got the capacity to do that. I think for me the mistake was head coach Eddie Jones thinking his side needed to go to the traditional English strength of forward dominance.

Now he has realised we have got fantastic backs as well.

What was really impressive was how England changed styles during the match. In the first half, both sides were throwing the kitchen sink at it and playing from everywhere.

Then England realised in the second half that France were starting to tire and they went more for the power game.

They were testing whether France still had that accuracy with 20 minutes to go. France did start to make a few errors and England did not overdo it.

They kicked their goals, they did not hesitate. They played in the opposition 22.

Their decision-making around the gameplan and the pace at which they wanted to play varied in the second half.

Whereas the first half was absolute flat-out trying to run France ragged, the second half was more about doing whatever it takes to win.

‘Wales should win the Grand Slam’

England may have highlighted for everybody else how to play against France with the way they mixed it up tactically and how they dealt with Dupont.

You are never going to be able to stifle them but they applied the right type of pressure to France’s key decision-makers – particularly in the second half.

That could help Wales as they look to complete a Grand Slam in Paris next weekend. That is going to be an unbelievable game.

France have got plenty to play for. With their postponed game against Scotland yet to be played, they are still in control of their destiny as far as winning the Championship goes.

I was very impressed with Wales’ victory in Rome earlier on Saturday. I know it was against Italy but they looked really slick.

Wales could match France in the first half like England did. They have that killer instinct and the confidence to do it. So I am probably going to edge towards Wales winning the Grand Slam.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

Six Nations table showing Wales P 4 W 4 D 0 L 0 PD 63 B 3 Pts 19; France P 3 W 2 D 0 L 1 PD 39 B 2 Pts 10; England P 4 W 2 D 0 L 2 PD 5 B 2 Pts 10; Ireland P 3 W 1 D 0 L 2 PD 31 B 3 Pts 7; Scotland P 2 W 1 D 0 L 1 PD 4 B 1 Pts 5; Italy P 4 W 0 D 0 L 2 PD -142 B 0 Pts 0
France’s game against Scotland – originally scheduled for 28 February – was postponed to a later date after a Covid outbreak in the French camp

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