England v France kicks off in about fifteen minutes in Auckland. It’s the second Six Nations quarter final of the day (or night, depending on your location). The first match was a proper upset with Wales, who failed to beat South Africa in their group and always looked a little sketchy, beating an Irish side who had shocked the Wallabies to top their group. I didn’t see anyone who expected Wales to win, I certainly didn’t. But their defence was superb, twice early on Ireland got down to within a metre of a try, only for Wales to force them back and eventually force an error. The second time Ireland went a full fifteen metres backward before conceding a penalty. It was a very, very solid performance, capped by a brace of second half tries after Ireland had equalised. The full time result was a fair one: Ireland 10-22 Wales.
So the two old protagonists meet again. England and France, adversaries for the past thousand years give or take. England should win. England have a very good record in knockout matches against France and won at Twickenham during the Six Nation. France’s world cup has been abysmal. Poor play and a player rebellion was capped by a defeat to Tonga in their last group match. They had done enough to qualify anyway (and were never going to top a group containing New Zealand), but could hardly have gone into the quarter finals in a worse way.
Still, England have not been overwhelming. They won all their group matches, but needed a late try against Argentina and a very late try against Scotland. They played sloppily throughout the group stages. Not only did they concede a staggering number of penalties, they had a fair share of handling errors as well. Only against a depleted Romanian side did they look comfortable. They also had off pitch troubles most notably with regard to the balls provided to Wilko.
In the end, I do think England will win. They haven’t played well, but they have always managed to do just enough to win. (And no more.) France have not. Also, England are starting both Flood and Wilko which I think is a good idea. I think this will put the French defence off, as there will be more kicking opportunities, and will improve the distribution to the backs with more width.
We’ve already seen one upset today though. COME ON ENGLAND!