Improving England ought to beat confused France

ENGLAND’S last Six Nations outing, the hard-fought defeat to Wales at Twickenham, was very positive. The big concern was that they weren’t going to go out and play but they moved the ball around well and met fire with fire. Personally, I thought David Strettle’s last-gasp effort should have been given as a try but, having said that, the best team probably won. Wales had an excellent first 20 minutes, with George North making some great breaks. The performance was heartening, yet it’s all about winning really. The next few games will be vital for England’s development.

Head coach Stuart Lancaster has come under fire from Leicester boss Matt O’Connor for his playing style and team selections. Club coaches are always going to be protective when two of their senior players – Ben Youngs and Toby Flood – are not starting for England, and that’s commendable, but playing for Leicester and the national team are very different. The Tigers have a strong pack who dominate and make it easy for the half-backs; playing for your country you are often under extreme pressure. Looking forward, Youngs in particular is a very good player but needs to get his game back to be in a starting position. Lee Dickson and Charlie Hodgson have done well and you can’t ignore form.

Hodgson is fit again, leaving Lancaster a choice between him and Owen Farrell at fly-half – but I’m pretty sure it’s also about the centre partnership. I don’t see Farrell as an inside centre long-term; his best position is No10. His distribution is comparable to Hodgson’s and if he’s kicking well he’s probably the best man. Centres Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt might be similar but add something in different areas, and I’d rather see the best partnership.

SLAP ON THE WRIST
France have had a mixed championship. In last weekend’s draw with Ireland they had huge lapses of concentration and they don’t seem to know how they’re trying to play. They don’t look comfortable in their own shirts yet, and that’s reflected in the fact they’ve changed their half-backs for the England game. I’m not sure those coming in, Julien Dupuy and Lionel Beauxis, are as good as Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc; it’s a case of trying something different but also a slap on the wrist.

You never know with France, although when their backs are against the wall they do tend to come out fighting. I think it’ll be tough but I’ll be disappointed if, in these circumstances, England can’t go there and win. They’re going to have to be pragmatic; we’d all love to see an open game but the reality is, away from home against the French, we’d all forgive them if they grabbed a 3-0 win. They can’t afford to go into the last match against Ireland having just lost two big games.

Kyran Bracken was speaking courtesy of GamePlan Solutions: Managing high profile and popular sport stars; speakers, leaders, motivators, ambassadors www.gameplansolutions.co.uk