The week is running away with me and I haven’t caught up on the first of six 6 Nations matches I’ll be watching live. I was expecting to be sitting at home watching England’s opening match against France but a Rose Army friend Matt managed to get a last minute ticket for my friend Andrea and I. We were sat apart but that’s not an issue for either of us. I was slightly surprised to have paid £108 to sit in a corner but the view I had was a good one, and just for once the game wasn’t interrupted by people walking backwards and forwards in front of me for the duration.
I arrived in Twickenham early and treated myself to lunch with cake at Patisserie Valerie, strawberries in February are always a delight! A short visit to the Blue Room where Vernon again showed why he’s so popular, he really is very funny and quick on the stage, and I made my way to my seat via the escalators with Andrea who then made her way up a level.
Having watched France play the All Blacks in Paris I was expecting a difficult game for England. I am a Saracens fan, I’ll put that out there, but England are missing Mako and Billy Vunipola and although Maro Itoje is close to a world class 2nd row, he isn’t of the same stature as a flanker, he certainly isn’t Chris Robshaw. Louis Picamoles on the other hand really is a world class number 8, he’s one of the first in my fantasy team each year.
France were without Wesley Fofana and Basteraud is no replacement for him, but had Baptiste Serin starting at scrum half, I’d say it’s hard to pick between the young star and Maxime Machenaud, both are in the ‘Little General’ mode so loved by the French.
England were looking for a record 15th win and chasing the All Blacks record during this tournament, France were looking to show the world they were back to their exciting best. The first half was anything but exciting, neither side looked like scoring a try, both had 3 penalties apiece to show at half time, 2 for Owen Farrell and a long range effort for Elliot Daly for England and 3 for Camille Lopez.
France were playing the better rugby with England struggling with slow ball, it was Rabah Slimani who crossed for the first try of the game after breaking through several England tackles to put his team ahead, Farrell had added an earlier penalty, the score stood at England 12 France 16 after 60 minutes and it was hard to see where England could win the game.
Cue substitutions, James Haskell appeared unannounced allowing Maro Itoje to go back to his preferred position in the 2nd row, Danny Care came on for Ben Youngs, he always moves the ball quicker than Youngs in my opinion. And the key substitution was Ben T’eo on for George Ford, with Farrell moving into the fly half position. Ford had been at best anonymous during the game, largely due to the failure of his pack and scrum half to put England on the front foot.
England’s game came alive and a quick ball went to Farrell who passed to T’eo who crashed through the French defence to score, an easy conversion gave England the lead, leaving a nervy 8 minutes to play. France were the better team on the day and Louis Picamoles was deservedly the Man of the Match but this England team knows how to win and they held on to post a victory in round one. I’ve managed to get a ticket for the Wales v England match and really hope England aren’t as lacklustre in Cardiff, Wales have a very experienced Back Row, and as the saying goes – Forwards win the game, backs decide by how much, the England pack will need to ramp up to win in Cardiff!