England gave up their Six Nations title to Ireland after falling well short of the maximum points they needed to keep the championship alive.
On a frenetic evening in Paris the Red Rose brigade did not just miss the four-point bonus they required. They bungled the victory too.
Jonny May scored a late try to give them a flicker of hope, but it was proved scant consolation as France punished their indiscipline to beat their arch-rivals for the first time since 2014.
The damage was done by the boot of Maxime Machenaud and a high tackle from Anthony Watson that cost him a yellow card and England a penalty try.
It also meant the unbeaten Irish could start the party as they can not now be caught – even if England recover from this in time to beat them at Twickenham next Saturday.
Here are five talking points from Paris…
NEW LEADERSHIP, OLD PROBLEMS
We awoke to a banner headline on the front of sports paper L’Equipe which suggested France was a nervous rugby nation.
“God Save Les Bleus’ it screamed.
Well they did not need divine intervention here. England made it too easy for them.
Eddie Jones changed his chain of command for this game, handing Owen Farrell the captaincy and appointing Mako Vunipola his number two.
Yet the two-time defending champions appeared rudderless. Their play lacked variety, they were incohesive and flustered. They needed leaders across the park, there were none.
Let’s not pin the blame on any one man. This was a collective failing and the upshot was only England’s second loss to France since 2010.
IT’S TOUGH SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE OF HISTORY
No England team had ever scored four tries to win a Six Nations match in Paris. They still haven’t.
That was the challenge facing this team if they were to stop unbeaten Ireland winning the championship with a round to spare. It proved insurmountable.
France had needed to beat Italy last time out to end a run of eight games without a victory – and still came into this match on the back of three straight home defeats.
But just as at Murrayfield a fortnight ago, England learned to their cost that opponents save their best for the Red Rose brigade. For Scotland read France.
EVEN EDDIE JONES’ FORCE OF PERSONALITY HAS ITS LIMITATIONS
Eddie Jones called for a “brutal” English assault on the French to “test their manhood”. Well, they ran at them and Ben Te’o gave Mathieu Bastareaud a good rattle early doors. But that was about it.
They had to discourage France early, quieten the crowd and make their hosts lose interest. Not the toughest task in world rugby given the evidence of the last eight years of Les Bleus’ underachievement.
Yet France were always interested, never given cause for disillusionment. The first half came and went without a try as England huffed and puffed and achieved precious little.
“No one is playing well for England,” ranted Jeremy Guscott on BBC at half-time. “There is no energy, explosion or players saying ‘give the ball to me’. There are no leaders out there.”
It didn’t improve. And when Anthony Watson was harshly pinged for a high tackle on Benjamin Fall, the resultant yellow card and penalty try settled the issue.
INDISCIPLINE KILLED ENGLAND…AGAIN
Against Italy, Wales and Scotland littered their performance with careless and often clumsy penalties. They knew it had to be different this time.
Instead this was the worst yet. They tried to run before they could walk, tripping over their own ambition and when that approach didn’t pay an immediate dividend the panic set in.
Not ‘the house is on fire’ sort of panic, more a lack of the composure which at this level is so crucial to achieving anything.
By half-time they were into double-digits and the longer the game went on the less tidy they became. By the finish the tally was a nightmarish 16. They did not cope at all well with knowing they needed to win with four tries. The upshot is Ireland are champions.
THE CASE FOR BONUS POINTS
When bonus points were introduced into the Six Nations a year ago Eddie Jones said he did not think they would have any influence. “If you play good rugby, you secure a bonus point,” he said. “If you don’t, you don’t.”
England won more matches than anyone else and duly picked up the title. Bonus points did indeed prove immaterial.
Fast forward 12 months and the argument is less convincing. With a round still to play Ireland have the title in the bag.
Folk will point out that ultimately it did not come down to bonus points here either but, no question, the pressure of needing to get one at Stade de France proved a major contributory factor in England’s sorry demise.