England’s players were “discovered” against France, according to scrum-half Rugby World Cup winner Matt Dawson, with number 8 Alex Dombrandt described as “overwhelmed” against a quality French back row.
Speaking on BBC Rugby Union Daily podcast, Dawson noted the gap between performing well in the Gallagher Premiership and the standard required at Test level.
“It’s obviously a big step up and people like Alex Dombrandt have been figured out — he was almost overwhelmed today,” Dawson said. “If you’re against a great back row like the French back row out there anyway, but a back row that’s crazy about it – he didn’t want more. Jack Willis wanted no more. Put them in the club shirt and they are player of the game.
Dawson added that part of the England side will have “played their way out of the Borthwick regime” after the 10-53 defeat, the most points England have ever conceded at home.
“How you function under that pressure will be really interesting for the coaching staff. There will be little sign of Kevin Sinfield – who is a very good person and will build people up, but deep down is a tough person with high standards – who will think “that’s not acceptable on my team.” I think there were moments with individuals where you thought maybe when it comes down to it, maybe they just don’t have the mentality to play at that level.
“It was a total tear down in every way. England straight away had four minutes for the fans to get excited. There was a lack of intensity, accuracy, tactical skill, execution and commitment right from the start. Everything that we as former players, who were in those games would have thought there was a total against France. It was nowhere.”
Speaking on ITV, former England manager Sir Clive Woodward echoed Steve Borthwick’s pre-match comments about England finding out where they stood as a team against France.
“I think we know it now — we’re not in a good place,” Woodward said. “The scrum and the alley went fine, but we were crushed when we broke down. The game slipped away. We need to be more adventurous and conquer the world. It’s not all doom and gloom, it can only go one way from here.
I thought it was a well chosen team, one of the best Steve Borthwick could have fielded. But the physicality and athleticism of the French team was just incredible. [Borthwick] don’t overreact, that happens. England would never win that game today and were second by a wide margin. But the distance is not that big. Having to play Ireland next week is a sobering thought.”
Woodward questioned England’s tactical approach and highlighted the differences between the two sides.
“I keep emphasizing that: we started the game and kicked long, a free catch to get into the game and here we go. Start of the second half, France kicks short, they try to get the ball all the time. “It’s the mentality of the teams. Steve still has a lot to learn, he’s a young coach just starting out in his career. But we have to get our mentality right so that we always want the ball, feel comfortable with the ball. In a Six Nations game we would have I never saw that result at Twickenham.
“The whole French pack was just amazing. I was trying to think about what players that weren’t playing today we could have and nothing came to mind. So that’s the worrying thing about English rugby because we’ve been in so many Stages of the game Second. The goal line doesn’t flatter France at all.”
Jonny Wilkinson, England’s World Cup winner, who has spent time at the camp, played in two of England’s biggest defeats, against Australia in 1998 and South Africa in 2007.
“It’s really interesting because it has to happen,” Wilkinson said. “It’s not a wrong turn, it’s the way. In 1998 it was a really cathartic opportunity, not being able to continue the story of who I thought I was, it was forced to change and in that change I found new possibilities. In Bloemfontein 2007 we lost by 50 points but within three months we were in the Rugby World Cup final. That doesn’t mean there will be years and years of it. It’s a massive reality check in many ways that evolution needs to happen. When there’s a desire to keep going, it grows into something bigger and better. I think this team will come out easier on the field next time, there will be a freshness about it.
“We need to find that solid ground to start building from, and we haven’t quite found it yet. Maybe that’s it. All intentions and desires are there. I’ve been in camp and watched them and all that work has been done and details have been passed but it just doesn’t quite happen. This result must be really hard for the players to take.
Benjamin Kayser, former hooker from France and Leicester, previewed France’s outstanding performance and lauded the impact of Thibauld Flament, Gregory Alldritt and Jonathan Danty.
“Very proud of the achievement. Completely overjoyed and overwhelmed by the quality of rugby, France can play. Does it reflect the distance between the two teams? I don’t believe. But on that day I can only say: Well done, thank you,” said Kayser.
“Huge performance with a lot of courage. Thibauld Flament, Gregory Alldritt were sensational. Jonathan Danty delivered everything we asked of him. You have to give credit to the coaching staff for decision making and team selection. This is a great page of French history that was written today at a stadium that means so much to the world of rugby. Is that the norm? I hope it lasts as long as possible.”