Jonny May scored a hat-trick of tries as England continued their stunning start to the Six Nations by hammering France 44-8 in their biggest win against their old rivals since 1911.
May completed his treble inside half an hour, capitalising on a brilliant kick from Chris Ashton for his 22nd international try.
Owen Farrell and Henry Slade completed the scoring as the Red Rose made it two wins from two in the championship.
Here’s our report card from a one-sided contest.
England game plan: Although many would prefer to see a bit more ball-in-hand running, England’s kicking game were seriously impressive for the second week in a row.
With Farrell and Slade pulling the strings, the little kicks through stretched the opposition back three at every opportunity and exploited the space with the lightning pace of Elliot Daly, Ashton and man-of-the-match May.
They may have been clinical in all aspects, but the kicking prowess and fast defensive line is a serious threat, and will undoubtedly put title rivals Wales – far off their best against Italy – under immense pressure in two weeks time.
Farrell world’s best right now: He was labelled hotheaded for his style of leadership in the build-up to the Six Nations but has stayed at room temperature so far.
His kicking from hand was exceptional against France and constantly exposed the visitors’ positioning with his clever kicks, vision and solid distribution.
His communication in defence is also sublime and adds another attribute to his vast array of skills. On form, no one can currently rival him.
France lack spark: In a first half where England had 63 per cent of possession and 71 per cent of territory it was going to take every ounce of France’s commitment to keep the Red Rose in check. But France showed no organisation and energy in their defence and conceded four tries. Although the stats may only point to 16 missed tackles overall (94/110) in comparison to England’s 31 missed tackles (148/179), France looked devoid of any spark with or without the ball.
Poor Bastareaud: Not an international quality standard centre. The Toulon man brings absolutely nothing to the table and was caught out on countless occasions against England. His fitness, discipline, positioning and general influence on the game is limited and it’s a joke to see the 30-year-old still getting game time at such an elite level. If Jacques Brunel wants more imagination from his midfield, he needs to bring Gael Fickou off the wing to partner Wesley Fofana in the centre. With the way Bastareaud played at Twickenham, he wouldn’t make Dubai Eagles’ second XV.
2 minutes – Guirado knocks on at halfway line, and England spread the ball wide. Daly slips through a ball and May touches down (5-0).
7 minutes – Farrell converts a penalty to make it 8-0.
10 minutes – Les Bleus are on the board through Morgan Parra’s penalty (7-3).
12 minutes – Farrell lands another kick to stretch the advantage (11-3).
24 minutes – England power forward and Farrell weaves a long pass out left and May steps inside Penaud to score from close range (16-3).
30 minutes – The Leicester man completes his hat-trick on the half way mark. Parra knocked on and Ashton sends a grubber forward, with May running clear to dive over. Farrell converts (23-3).
35 minutes – France come fighting back. Camille Lopez slips a pass to Yoann Huget. The Toulouse full-back bursts past three defenders before passing the ball to Penaud who dances over in the right corner (23-8).
40 minutes – Slade crosses for his third try in two matches just before the break to increase the scoreline. Farrell converts (30-8).
50 minutes – England are awarded a penalty try after Ashton, who had a clear run to the line after a clever kick from Slade, was brought down by Fickou (37-8).
54 minutes – May sends a kick through and Farrell runs in support to dive over. Referee Nigel Owens goes to the TMO but the try is awarded. Farrell makes no mistake with the conversion to make it 44-8.
TACTICAL TALKING POINTS
England looked so comfortable and in control at Twickenham. Their excellent defence, kick-contest, and kicking into space had France on the ropes all afternoon. In fact, any time the home side opted to kick in behind the France back three, they looked like scoring. May will hog the limelight for his hat-trick, but in Tom Curry, Courtney Lawes, Slade and Farrell, they had key performers who look a class apart on their day. France, for all their lack of creativity, did improve in the second half – with 66 per cent possession – but failed to put any points on the score board.
This was nearly the complete performance from the Red Rose and continues their superb start to the Six Nations. There were a few handling errors and Farrell may have missed three of his six conversions but this is as close to perfection as you can get.
The visitors were outplayed right from the first moment to the last. They showed better in the second period with the introduction of Dupont and Ntamack, but they are clearly a team without a plan, short or long-term.
England have urged officials to prevent scheming France deliberately slowing the tempo of Sunday’s Six Nations clash at Twickenham.
Eddie Jones has highlighted the difficulty of playing at pace against Les Bleus due to the variety of tricks they employ to reduce the game to a speed that suits their substandard conditioning.
It will be among the issues raised by Steve Borthwick when the forwards coach speaks with Nigel Owens at the customary eve-of-match referees’ meeting and England are confident the Welsh official will be alert to the threat.
“It’s up to Nigel Owens. Nigel’s an experienced referee who understands the ebb and flow of games. He’ll do the best to keep the game moving I think,” attack coach Scott Wisemantel said.
Former England prop Joe Marler has revealed the go-slow tactics used by France, which include: stopping to tie up shoe laces, resetting scrums, taking as long as possible to form line-outs and launching their gargantuan forwards into the breakdown in the pretence of competing for the ball.
Jones insists there are limitations to what England can do against the type of dark arts he claims are bad for the sport.
“It’s difficult – just look at ball-in-play time,” said Jones, who enjoyed the best result and performance of his three-year reign as head coach when Ireland were routed 32-20 last weekend.
“We have just had the Japanese coaches with us for the week – Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown – and they are aiming to have a ball-in-play time of close to 50 minutes. France average 30 minutes.
“They kick the ball out a lot and look for long stoppages before scrums. They are things we really can’t control, so it’s hard to get pace in the game against them.
“It is hard to get pace in the game now the way the game is being refereed because increasingly we are getting longer stoppages, which I don’t think is healthy for the game.
“There are a couple of ways we can get a bit of pace in the game on Sunday and we have investigated those. You know the referee we have got.”
Mako Vunipola, a star of the Aviva Stadium accomplishment, echoes Wisemantel’s confidence that Owens will punish France if necessary.
“For me as a front rower I would be happy if they slowed it down,” the Saracens loosehead prop said.
“But for us it’s about controlling what we can and making sure that we take care of our job. If it is ridiculous then I’m sure the right people will step in.
“Being focused for 80 minutes is the biggest thing because this team can score from anywhere in a split second.”
England are odds-on favourites to sweep aside France and Jones is convinced they can improve on a result in Dublin that sent shock waves across the game in World Cup year.
“I think we can get better. I always remember a press conference with Tiger Woods after he took 12 months to remodel his swing,” Jones said.
“The interviewer said to him, ‘can you be as good as you were?’ and he said, ‘the reason I have taken time off is to be better’. There’s no reason why we can’t keep on getting better, no reason at all.”
Warren Gatland claimed “it could be embarrassing” if Wales replicate their performance against Italy when they face England in a fortnight’s time.
Wales backed up a Six Nations victory over France by defeating the Azzurri 26-15 in Rome thanks to second-half tries by wing Josh Adams and centre Owen Watkin.
Wales equalled the longest unbeaten run in their 138-year Test match history, making it 11 successive victories and matching the sequence set between 1907 and 1910.
But it was a stop-start performance by a Wales team showing 10 changes from the one that triumphed in Paris eight days ago.
“There are lots of things we need to improve for England,” Wales head coach Gatland told ITV.
“We all need to improve in lots of areas to beat England. They are a pretty good side at the moment. If we play like that against England it could be embarrassing.”
Speaking at his post-match press conference, Gatland added: “It wasn’t a great performance, but sometimes you have to win ugly.
“We didn’t play that well, but as I said to the boys in the changing room, we will take the win, move on and start thinking about England.”
Asked if he regretted making wholesale changes, Gatland said: “I don’t regret anything. I was looking at the bigger picture.
“For us as coaches, in our last year, we want to have as good a World Cup as we can. That was the plan all along. There is no regret.
“We are two (wins) from two, and we have a couple of weeks of training before England. It sets us up nicely for the England match.
“A lot of people will be writing us off, which is a good position to be in. Hopefully, we will go under the radar, have two good weeks of training and get ourselves mentally and physically right.
“We didn’t play as well as we would have liked. Probably part of that is that we didn’t have the continuity that we would have if we hadn’t made so many changes.
“We didn’t really get out of jail. I don’t think it ever looked like we were going to lose the game, but we weren’t as accurate as we could have been.
“You are not always brilliant, and we weren’t today. We will be a lot better against England.
“We didn’t speak about the record (11 wins) at all this week, but we will probably talk about it before England.
“If this group of players achieve that, it will be something nobody can take away from them. There will definitely be no lack of motivation in trying to beat England and break that record.”
During the game, the radio link between referee Mathieu Raynal and the television match official appeared not to work in an embarrassing episode for Six Nations chiefs, and when Raynal had to rule on try-scoring moments, a set of headphones were brought on for him to communicate with the TMO.
Wales skipper Jonathan Davies said: “I think there was a breakdown in communication with a technical fault. There is always a lot to talk about with things like that. It didn’t affect the result of the game, thankfully.”
Fly-half Dan Biggar kicked 14 points and Gareth Anscombe converted Watkin’s touchdown, but Italy, despite slipping to a 19th successive Six Nations defeat and a 13th on the bounce against Wales, battled hard throughout.
They claimed a first-half try from flanker Abraham Steyn, with fly-half Tommaso Allan kicking a penalty and conversion, before wing Edoardo Padovani crossed late on.
Reflecting on the result, Italy boss Conor O’Shea said: “I am really disappointed.
“I see a group in our changing room that are so driven and have a desire to succeed. They know the scale of the challenge, but we will just dust ourselves down.”