If England go on to win the Grand Slam or just the Championship they need to strike one more medal and award it to the current French coach because on Saturday he made sure it could happen.
Saint-André finally picked a team that could win a game. He picked a team that was winning a game. The right players actually playing in their right positions. All those players he brought in playing like they can and leading France to their first victory of this championship.
Up until the 53rd minute when he couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t stop himself from trying to prove he was right all along when he picked all the wrong players in the wrong positions that were humiliated by Italy and Wales. In a defiant “I’ll show you” gesture Saint-André handed it all to England grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.
For the first 53 minutes of the game this was the France everyone expected, the France that started the 6 Nations as favourites. Morgan Parra was bossing the game, Trinh-Duc was his able deputy, his forwards were destroying their counterparts and his backs were running through theirs. Who cares about the number of changes when it now resemble a proper team on both paper and more importantly on grass.
While France’s seven changes flourish, two of England’s faltered – only Manu Tuilagi really worked. The choice of Lawes looked almost Saint-André like, a second row played at flanker, there for line-out domination and big hits off the scrum and in the open. Neither came. The hits particularly missing as he flounced the first chance to stop Fofana on his magnificent run for the opening try.
Other areas failed as England’s set pieces faltered. Hartley, the other failing change, in at hooker was poor at the line-outs while the scrum, particularly the front row, was destroyed by Nicolas Mas.
England were second best but had scraped in at half-time with a lead thanks to the boot of Farrell.
Ten minutes into the second half England coach Lancaster made the changes that needed to be made. He removed the players that weren’t working, Hartley, Lawes, Marler and brought on Youngs, Vunipola and Haskell. They immediately made a difference.
While Saint-André went the other way and took off his influential players and replaced them with the sorry mob who had seen the side through their first two losses. First up was the very symbol of those ineffectual games earlier in the championship. Michalak for Trinh-Duc, all seemingly because Parra had missed a couple of kicks. Trinh-Duc could have taken the kicks but the coach wanted Michalak on there to prove he wasn’t wrong before.
Michalak put over his first kick but after that went on to prove what a mistake it was by Saint-André. A mistake compounded as more and more of the influential players left the park to be replaced. as Mas trudged off shortly before Parra it was pretty much game over. Scrums now went England’s way, the French forwards were now on the back foot.
It made it easier for Lancaster to take off the injured Farrell. Injured earlier he had struggled through but you could see after the first of his last two kicks at goal, both missed, he wasn’t right. Chances are he would have slotted them if fit. It meant that England didn’t suffer from the introduction of Flood. Nobody ran at Toby, nobody tested him. Brought on earlier he really would have been a target for the rampaging Bleus. They may have targeted Farrell but he’s up to the rough stuff. Flouncy Flood on the other hand. While Cares showed again he should be starting at 9.
England weren’t anywhere near their best. Lucky with the try – first time England have been on the right side of officiating mistakes for a while – almost back to the bad old days of indiscipline, too many penalties especially kickable ones and another yellow card but still beat a side that was cruising and bossing the game by 10 points.
Most of the XV that started, most of the substitutes should take much of the plaudits but then so so should the French coach. England says
thank you Philippe Saint-André.