Source: ©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

France v England Preview One

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What do these scores have in common? They are in chronological order:


Yes, they are the half-time scores in the last five England-France matches (England score shown first). All ended in England victories, the only wide margin being the 33-10 win in Grenoble (that’s the 10-10). Even that job saw Emily Scarratt summoned at the end to pot a penalty rather than risk anything more aggressive. Just the three tries that day. The rest were nail-bitingly close.

These scores stand in stark contrast to all the others that make up the Red Roses run of 22 wins.

More recently the four English half-time scores in the 6 Nations show a trend when placed side by side;

38-5 v Scotland;
31-0 v italy;
19-0 v Wales;
10-0 v Ireland

– an ever decreasing margin. At Leicester Simon Middleton spoke of problem-solving in the midst of chaos, but where did the chaos derive from? Was it simply the Irish opposition? If so, well done them!

We can be certain the French will be offering something more than mere chaos. If England turn round again with a worryingly tight margin, will they be able to turn on the heat and score another pile of the tries? They haven’t managed that against the French for a long while, even in that 33-10 ‘romp’.

French Ambitions

France have two clear targets: a Grand Slam next Saturday and a World Cup trophy next autumn. We already know the wider squad from whom the next XV will be selected. It was announced before the fourth round tie against Wales.

But the staff have been conservative in their choices. Promising youngsters in the group have hardly had a look-in.

French drawbacks

How likely are the French to overturn this remarkable run of English success? Highly improbable, if we do a side-by-side comparison of their performances this series:

v ireland – France 40-5; England 69-0
v Italy – France 39-6; England 74-0
v Scotland – France 28-8; England 57-5
v Wales – France 33-5; England 58-5

All eight matches ensured the vital bonus point, but there the comparisons end – to be replaced by striking contrasts. France have yet to top 40 points against anyone; England have sailed past 50 every time. France haven’t yet completed a clean sheet; they have conceded three tries to England’s two, but three penalties to England’s zero. (An amount of luck comes in here: when a player misses a kick from in front of the posts, stats hide sad facts.)

So France find it harder to keep building their totals; we saw the same pattern against the Black Ferns. Glorious though their two wins were, they had to be satisfied with lower totals than England (38 and 29 as against 43 and 56).

When we think of the free-flowing style of the French and the dominance of their pack, these shortfalls come as a bit of a shock. But the total points scored in the current series make the point: England 248, France 116. That’s an ocean of dfference.

Let’s put it down to one crucial area, the bench. In other words England enjoys a much stronger depth of talent.

Even in the pack the players the French can bring on in the closing twenty minutes are unlikely to turn a game as decisively as their English counterparts. Think of the back row: the Red Roses have introduced players of the quality of Sarah Hunter, Poppy Cleall, Alex Matthews, Sarah Beckett and Vicky Fleetwood as late as this.

The front-rows are more balanced, but Hannah Botterman, Shaunagh Brown or Maud Muir are more likely to cause havoc than Assia Khalfaoui or Célia Domain.


Of course both nations have suffered long and short-term injuries, but they tend to harm France’s prospects more than England’s.

If we accept that Caroline Boujard and Cyrielle Banet are France’s No 1 choices on the wing, they have not yet appeared together in the same 6N match. Their replacements are young and talented, but hardly game-changers.

As for England, which is the best pairing? I don’t think even the management knows for sure. They have suffered long grievous injuries to three leading candidates, Lydia Thompson, Jess Breach and now Abby Dow, but their replacements, Sarah McKenna and Heather Cowell, have performed admirably and scored tries.

It’s the same story in the centre: no Emily Scarratt for an age – disaster? No! In steps Holly Aitchison to enjoy herself against the Black Ferns, while Helena Rowland seems able to occupy any place in the backs that needs filling; up to now, 10, 12, 13 and 15. And that overlooks the contributions of Amber Reed and Lagi Tuima. Riches indeed.

In one vital position it’s the same, No 10. Caroline Drouin was withdrawn to prepare for the Langford 7s at the end of the month. Who to replace her? The staff turn to Jessy Trémoulière, the World Player of the Decade no less, but a seasoned full-back. None of the possible alternatives deemed up to the mark.

Trémoulière is a classy performer, especially with the boot; she leads the way with 50:22 kicks. But doesn’t have the all-round game of Drouin as pivot. That may help to explain the lack of high scores.

When Zoe Harrison doesn’t wear 10, England can call on Rowland to provide a different set of posers for the opposition.

Now we await the results of the casualty lists. Let’s hope they are short to the point of invisibility.