France played the better rugby but have forgotten how to win again
France now look stuck in that seemingly eternal Scotland rut – playing some great stuff, deserving of victory, yet not achieving it. And thus, the hard-bitten among us will insist, not deserving of victory at all. The good teams find a way to win when they’re not playing well; the hopeful, promising ones find a way to lose even when they are. It is not fair, but it is the way of the world.
Last time England were on a run of 14 wins, it was France who denied them, back in 2003 when England were a great team and France a good one. It was an England second team who lost by a point in Marseille, but it was a momentary slip they were apparently indifferent towards,as they resumed their campaign to win the World Cup without so much as a shrug.
This England team, very much as first choice as it could be, were not indifferent about registering this record 15th consecutive victory. How France would have loved to deny them another grand slam at the first attempt, but this will have to go down, like the ones to Australia and New Zealand in the autumn, as a match they coulda-shoulda won – but did not. And if those keep happening, you are just not there yet. Ask Scotland.
Scotland turned the coulda-shouldas into something tangible at last against France in round four of last season’s . Now they appear to be soaring. So the consolation for France is that a win can be all it takes. They will wonder how that win was not registered here. It was one of those bewildering matches where all the eye-catching performances were put in by the side who ended up losing. Scott Spedding, Virimi Vakatawa, Kevin Gourdon and Louis Picamoles – oh, Louis Picamoles – were fabulous from start to finish, galloping free across Twickenham’s greensward. England looked all over the place again and again.
Picamoles, in particular, is blossoming at the moment, but he must be sick of this brilliance in vain. He has lit up the Premiership in this, his first season in Northampton colours. And yet the Saints keep losing as well. They had four starting forwards on the field here, in a full-blown international, which makes a mockery of their problems with the scoreboard. At least, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood find themselves on the winning side when they’re pulling together in England colours. For Picamoles the pain goes on.
And who is next up for France? Scotland. Next weekend’s visitors to Paris are not yet so established in the winning business as to be expected to prevail over there, but that is just the kind of assignment that a team low on confidence dread. Ideally, France would have someone they are not expected to beat. They need a proper scalp to take the next step in their development.
Are they a team low on confidence? They did not look it at Twickenham – until the inevitable tide started to wash towards them. Like Scotland, their mettle was tested in the second half, when a more fancied, albeit labouring team came back at them. Unlike Scotland they were unable to respond with the stuff that matters – points.
When it comes to that deeply ingrained confidence, the kind that takes you beyond the superficial ability to “play well”, France are undoubtedly still lacking. It is that confidence that mobilises when the call comes to win at all costs. England have it at the moment; France do not. The good news is that just getting that scoreboard reading in your favour can change all that quite suddenly. The bad news is it can take years to make it happen. Just ask Scotland. And, for that matter, England.