France vs. England: Score and Lessons Learned from Six Nations Clash

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2014

France vs. England: Score and Lessons Learned from Six Nations Clash

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    David Rogers/Getty Images

    Putting an end to England's three-year winning streak, France managed to pull back a victory against Stuart Lancaster's side in their Six Nations opener on Saturday evening.

    Philippe Saint-Andre's men had a mound of responsibility to improve upon following 2013's last-place finish in the competition, and a 26-24 triumph against tough opposition saw just that.

    The Stade de France played host to one of the closest games we're likely to see over the next six weeks, Les Bleus just about clinching their points in the dying minutes.

    Read on for a breakdown of the result's biggest talking points and lessons to be taken away from this clash of European titans.

1. Pivotal Centre Stakes Decide the Tie

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    It was nothing less than what was expected of the Paris encounter, as a great deal of the result was settled in the centres, where Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell attempted to hold their own against hosts Mathieu Bastareaud and Wesley Fofana.

    In truth, there ended up being no clear winner between the pairs, with England's duo faring better in the second half, while France's centres got off to a better opening 40 minutes.

    Bastareaud lived up to his billing by dishing out some heavy hits, Burrell showed his stopping power with a well-taken second-half try, Fofana's potential for magic was on show in glimpses and Twelvetrees' technical game came to the fore at times.

    Four tide-turning players of four extremely different styles made for an excellent battle when pitted against one another; the momentum of those in possession either boosted or slowed depending on which centre duo was on top at the time.

    Later on in the game, Gael Fickou would come on to have his own impact in Bastareaud's stead, scoring the try that would go on to prove to be England's undoing.

2. Yoann Huget the Man of the Moment

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    Save for Jules Plisson and Brice Dulin, this French back line is starting to gain an aspect of familiarity about it, with Yoann Huget gradually becoming one of the more permanent staples of the setup.

    And it's hardly surprising when one considers exactly how clinical the 26-year-old was with every opportunity afforded to him deep in enemy territory.

    Benefiting from a lucky bounce on Plisson's kick through, the Toulouse man opened the scoring within a minute before then touching down for his second with just 17 minutes on the clock.

    Both efforts were from short range and capitalised on lapses in English judgement if nothing else, but Huget takes an early lead in the Six Nations scoring charts after just one outing.

    Huget carried for 70 metres, made an impressive count of eight tackles, two clean line breaks and a couple of turnovers, his balanced display being just what the French ordered for their crucial opener.

3. Mike Brown Makes Up for Lack of Wing Proficiency

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    Seven years after receiving his first full England cap, Mike Brown managed to bag the first international try of his career, at a time when his team were in most need of the points.

    It's just as well the full-back could be relied upon, too, considering Jonny May and Jack Nowell failed to really impress in the French capital.

    May was forced to leave the game very early on with a nose injury, while Nowell's shakiness shone through a little too brightly for periods and ball retention was lacking.

    It was Brown who moved on to the wing following May's withdrawal, and, back in the position that followed him for almost all of 2013, the Harlequins star offered a wiser, more experienced international approach, including a reliable defensive contribution.

4. Difference in Depth Told the Tale

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    Thibault Camus/Associated Press

    England and France gave a fine account of their Tier 1 credentials with an incredible, tight-fought contest on Saturday, boasting some of the best starting XV lineups one is likely to see in the sport.

    However, what swung things in France's favour was the closest of advantages in their resources, something Lancaster wasn't able to boast with his team, currently afflicted by several injury issues.

    Saint-Andre had some very skilled substitutes to bring on in Dimitri Szarzewski and Fickou, each of whom had a massive hand in the game-winning try, while Damien Chouly, Yoann Maestri and Yannick Forestier each have a lot to contribute to the side's cause.

    That's not to say this England team aren't still capable of winning the competition. So long as the fitness of the squad swings ever so slightly in their favour, they may have the means to survive thanks to their more regular stars.

    For Joe Marler, Mako Vunipola was a ready replacement of a good standard. The same can be said for Tom Youngs, Ben Morgan and Alex Goode, each of whom have their reason to argue why they might be starting.

    However, Lancaster can be greatly encouraged at being able to cope with an early blow to Jonny May, for example, but his squad showed that, on the whole, they're still some paces off some of the world's finest.

5. Nigel Owens' Class Once Again Makes for Better Viewing

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    Having already built up a reputation as one of the world's finest officials, Nigel Owens opened up his Six Nations with a characteristically sound performance at the Stade de France.

    It may seem pedantic to analyse how a referee operates, but when the stakes are this high, it's vital that the referee's standards match those of the players on display.

    As usual, the Welshman promoted a fast and free-flowing dynamic, giving Tom Wood the benefit of the doubt when accusations of a late hit on Jules Plisson came in his direction.

    Owens has built up a renown reputaiton for not taking kindly to some antics one might come to expect from a certain other sport of a more spherical nature, and his tough approach is something that European audiences can look forward to having in their fixtures, for the sake of the fans more than anything.

6. Nyanga Easing Dusautoir Blow

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    With the announcement that Thierry Dusautoir would miss the entirety of this year's Six Nations through injury, French heads will assuredly have slumped, their leader set to miss out on guiding his troops for the next six weeks.

    However, when a player of Yannick Nyanga's talent is sitting in your squad, such blows are going to be lessened, with the Toulouse man starring well for Les Bleus despite his club and international partner missing out.

    The 30-year-old had five tackles to his name by halftime and was looking incredibly eager to make good ground with every surging break made through the English ranks.

    Filling into Dusautoir's blindside role, Nyanga may not be a like-for-like replacement, but the burden of Saint-Andre losing his primary captain choice is far from the deadly hit that it initially promised to be.