England fail to learn from breakdown woes


Paris (AFP)

England's scrum coach Neal Hatley said before Saturday's 22-16 defeat to France that England had "learned our lessons" from their breakdown failure against Scotland two weeks ago.

But on this evidence, Hatley was very much mistaken.

England not only gave up their Six Nations title with a whimper but they seemed to have gone backwards in the breakdown too.

Their only reprieve was France's struggles in the set-piece, but even that wasn't enough to win the match, let alone keep their title aspirations alive.

In fact, this match turned into a battle between England's breakdown deficiencies and France's set-piece turmoil, but the suspense was in seeing whose failings were going cost them victory.

Time and time again, England gave up promising attacking positions by their inability to secure possession in the tackle.

"When you consider how many breakdowns there are in a game, it's obviously an area that really needs to be highlighted," Hatley had said ahead of the game.

England's coaches had highlighted it but the players hadn't heeded those words.

Had France not been awarded their penalty try early in the second half, they would have had a penalty from another England infringement at the breakdown, although this time in defence.

Indiscipline was costing England all around as France's penalty try came from an Anthony Watson high tackle on Benjamin Fall.

That also saw Watson sent to the sinbin for 10 minutes, leaving England a man down just when they needed to start chasing the game.

But on the other hand, France's set-piece was a disaster. They lost their first three lineouts before giving up two more in the second half while prop Rabah Slimani gave away two penalties for collapsing first-half scrums.

- Catalogue of calamities -

Mind you, when England had an attacking five-metre line-out just before the hour mark, they managed to lose that too.

It was a catalogue of calamities on both sides.

And it was the breakdown that ultimately cost England as France centre Mathieu Bastareaud enjoyed great success there.

And it's not as if England hadn't been warned.

"France work very hard at the breakdown, and not just the back row but you see people like Bastareaud," had said Hatley.

Three times the burly back won a penalty at the breakdown.

They came mostly from England's attacking positions but crucially they came at the other end of the field too and France penalised the visitors with a Maxime Machenaud penalty in the second half that stretched the hosts' lead to more than a score.

The home fans were buoyant and the momentum seemed to be with France.

But their Achilles Heel almost cost them and helped swing the match back in England's favour in the final 10 minutes.

France lost yet another line-out, this time five metres from their own line.

England made them pay with a clever tap pass inside from Elliot Daly right on the touchline giving Jonny May the try that signalled hope of a comeback.

It wasn't to be.

One more penalty from England at the breakdown gave Lionel Beauxis the chance to kick France into a six-point lead leaving England needing a converted try to win.

Fittingly, the men in white gave up their hopes under the French posts from yet another breakdown where they failed to secure their own ball.

England's breakdown took the unwanted honours against France's set-piece and it will be back to the drawing board before next week's clash with combat kings Ireland.