LONDON // Martin Johnson must have had to call upon deep reserves of self-control to maintain his famous furrowed brow as he dissected England's out-of-the-blue 34-10 Six Nations thrashing of France on Sunday. The England manager finally lost control two weeks ago and was shown by TV cameras beating his fist in frustration as England conceded yet another penalty in their defeat by Ireland.
Desperate as he must have been to roar his delight after watching his team score five tries against the title-chasing French, he was back to his poker-faced best. "A lot of things we've been working hard on came off," he said. "I was happy for the guys and the message is, again, that when we are accurate we look like a good team. When you lose you get criticism. I thought some of it was over the top but that's the nature of it.
"We were 7-0 up quickly and that gave the players confidence and got the crowd going. It's where you want to be." It is a place England have not visited for a long time against top-level opposition. This was a France team who looked powerful and inventive in beating champions Wales two weeks ago and who were still in the running for their third championship in four years. Mark Cueto's opening try in the second minute rocked them and Riki Flutey's superbly-crafted second 20 minutes later put England in control.
"It was the same move we tried against Ireland but this time it came off and that will give us confidence," Johnson said. Tries late in the first-half for Delon Armitage and Joe Worsley and Flutey's second soon after the restart had England in dreamland at 34-0. They lost their way a little after that and France narrowed the deficit. "It's actually quite hard coming at half-time 29-0 ahead. In a way we'd done all we wanted to do," Johnson said.
"France had to try things, kick for touch, and eventually if you give them bits they will score. The guys came off a bit flatter than you'd think. For us there is lots more to come, lots of improvements." England host Scotland on Saturday while France sign off against Italy in Rome, once they have sorted through the wreckage of their latest failure to string together two big performances. "We really wanted to back up our good game against Wales but it didn't happen, there was no game," said their coach Mark Lievremont.
"We never really got into it. We started playing individually, our defence was not organised together and our errors and indiscipline really cost us. "It is not that we are a team who can only react, but we need to analyse the match and there are certainly some issues to solve." * Reuters