Watson double puts France away

Date published: August 15 2015

England won the first of their two warm-up matches against France 19-14 thanks to a brace from Anthony Watson at Twickenham.

This was a positive first run for the Rugby World Cup hosts, although not without obvious flaws.

England with three new caps in their starting XV were deserving winners based on the quality of their tries, although the result was of little importance.

Henry Slade shone and his versatility from 10 to 13 coupled with impressive composure at this level, despite this being only his first cap, will have done his World Cup selection chances plenty of good.

If he is in a shootout with Sam Burgess, whose work-rate with 13 tackles couldn't be faulted, then the answer of who to pick still isn't quite clear. Jonny May too was razor-sharp, backing up his billing as England's best player in camp.

Philippe Saint-André will have been enthused by the efforts of a French scrum that won multiple penalties, but their defence lacked composure, rattled it seemed by England's speed.

Opting frequently to put boot to ball was a safe rather than inspiring choice from France and simply raised more questions about what they are tactically trying to achieve in attack other than simply trying to outmuscle the opposition.

The return of Louis Picamoles was another boost but the number eight, on his first start since March 2014, impressed with the ball in hand but also produced moments of frustration – typified by one run where he left Ben Morgan trailing only to squander a potential try-scoring pass by delaying his delivery.

Twice the visitors opted to kick behind England's defensive line in the opening minutes only for the ball to bounce too far, the first requiring confirmation from the TMO that Brice Dulin hadn't caught up in time to score.

The French winger, normally a full-back, went from being seconds late for a try of his own to being left for dead by an outstanding move from Watson.

A magical step and burst of pace saw the Bath winger tear around Dulin's outside for a try in the corner to Twickenham's audible approval.

England then swapped individual brilliance for a collective score that they would do well to match at the Rugby World Cup.

Off first-phase ball from the lineout the delicate touches from Owen Farrell and Slade released May on an arcing run that tore France open, to then release Watson for a gem of a try.

France's defending left plenty to be desired but their scrum fared better, winning a penalty for Parra to convert and make it 12-6.

That continued pressure, with Kieran Brookes clearly dropping his knee to the ground, led to a third strike from Parra as France closed in.

Burgess showed real hunger in his opening collisions including a thundering hit on Alexandre Dumoulin, but a sloppy yellow card for tugging back Parra as the scrum-half attempted to take a tap penalty could have greater ramifications for his World Cup prospects. Without him down to 14 men England held on, ahead 12-9 at half-time.

Once England managed to construct enough phases their passing opened up the French defence yet again – this time sucking the defence to one side, including a fine pass out the back from Slade, before Alex Goode's kick to the corner found May unmarked for a deserved try, also England's third.

They were shortly back down to 14 men, with another Test debutant in Calum Clark receiving a yellow card for rolling Guilhem Guirado away from a ruck with his arm around his neck.

Uini Atonio was stopped just short of the line to keep France ten points adrift at 19-9 as both sides rolled out their benches.

His added power however did make an impact, first in a scrum where Mako Vunipola had no answers and then shortly afterwards as France crashed over for a try from Fulgence Ouedraogo through their maul.

Slade departed after an excellent debut to be replaced by Billy Twelvetrees as England looked to wrap things up, going close when May appeared to touch down chasing a kick ahead only for the play to be called back.

Still France's scrum produced penalties as England's set-piece let them down when in France's 22 with their final new cap, Luke Cowan-Dickie, misfiring at the lineout.

That led to France's bruising runners getting a last crack for the win as time ran out, but England held firm, securing a 19-14 win in the 100th edition of Le Crunch and giving them something to build on.

Man of the Match: Strong outings from Slade, Watson and Mako Vunipola in the loose put them in contention, while Louis Picamoles was France's most notable performer. But the award goes to Jonny May, who constantly threatened and was England's best weapon.

Moment of the Match: The second try for Anthony Watson, off a lineout and with smooth handling from England's backs, highlighted just how dangerous they can be when given a sniff.

Villain of the Match: Nothing nasty to report.

The scorers:

For England:

Tries: Watson 2, May

Cons: Farrell 2

Yellow Cards: Burgess, Clark

For France:

Tries: Ouedraogo

Pens: Parra 3

England: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Burgess, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Tom Wood (c), 5 Geoff Parling, 4 George Kruis, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 David Wilson, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Sofiane Guitoune, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Brice Dulin, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5. Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Vincent Debaty.
Replacements: 16 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Rémi Tales, 23 Gael Fickoü

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

By Ben Coles at Twickenham