The Phil Vickery Column
It's do or die time for England
Phil Vickery
February 3, 2014
Jack Nowell showed plenty of promise for England © Getty Images

When France went ahead 16-3, I thought to myself 'Jesus Christ, we're in for another Cardiff here if we aren't careful'. But that England performance filled me with a huge sense of pride; to get back in touch showed a huge amount of character. They showed desire, will and passion to get back at them - a complete contrast to last year's game against Wales.

They will be bitterly disappointed that they lost but there will be mixed emotions in the camp this week. They need to be honest with each other, individually and as a group and deal with it, take their frustrations out in training and then against Scotland.


  • Ireland v Wales: Ireland will come hard but Wales will have enough with Halfpenny kicking them to victory
  • Scotland v England: England will have too much power and I'm expecting a win of 10-plus points with a few tries
  • France v Italy: As much as I love the Italians and their tenacity, that old cockerel's chest is stuck out and I think they'll overpower the opposition. France will win and win well.
  • Winners: Wales have that all-important first win and are my favourites for the title

Not one major thing went wrong for England, it sometimes comes down to the bounce of the ball. The only area France got the nudge on was in the scrum but I think that was to be expected.

Dan Cole is one northern hemisphere prop who has struggled with the new scrum laws. The French scrum is always very powerful; I've been on the receiving end of that enough times to know that first hand about that.

Cole doesn't scrummage badly but the pressure ganged up on him, with the loose-head Domingo staying tight and narrow with the hooker coming across. Hartley and Youngs needed to do more to help him out by using their right shoulder to block that out and I'm sure they'll work on that this week. Dan's a big guy and he's gone from having a big gap where he can slam in with his long levers and long back to suddenly experiencing a bit more parity and technically he needs to be different.

There aren't alarm bells ringing but the combinations need to be worked on to get that understanding.

Elsewhere on the field, England did well. There were some young guys out there going into a cauldron and they coped admirably. No more so than Jack Nowell.

It was great to see a fellow Cornish lad on the field, he grew up 56 miles from where I was born and I wanted to cry for him early on when he dropped the first ball. I was feeling for him. But as the game went on, he fought his way back into the game and I give him a huge amount of credit for that. I'm old-fashioned, you can have all the skills but no mental hardness to keep on going. He did that and he can be massively proud.

It was understandable he went off with cramp.

I saw Lancaster get some flak for the substitutions he made but rugby is now a 23-man game, it's about those on the bench as well as those on the pitch. I was watching the game with Wasps chairman Mark Rigby and we both said to each other at the same time "these can disjoint a team".

But you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Had the substitutions worked, and those no reason why they weren't going to as Lancaster knows his players better than most, then we'd be hailing him as a miracle maker.

The despair of defeat. Ben Morgan and Jonny May watch on in Paris. France v England, Six Nations, Stade de France, Paris, February 1, 2014
England will be hurting but they can bounce back © Getty Images

We talk about coaches and game plans, but being a substitute is hard. There are certain skills required when you're a change player. When you're a reserve, you train and condition yourself to be in that position. Having experienced it a number of times, it is bloody difficult.

We're all experts with hindsight.

Like his team, Lancaster will have learnt from the match. This team still have time to find their stride before the World Cup. We wanted him to blood youth and he's done that, they need time to gel and I'm sure they'll bounce back against Scotland.

Without meaning to offend too many people it doesn't matter what Scotland do in the rest of the Six Nations, but if they beat England it's a successful championship. They will be disappointed with their loss to Ireland but first games are difficult.

A lot of the England players won't have experienced the Murrayfield atmosphere. There are a lot of shenanigans that always go on around the fixture with the pipers on the roof, supporters telling you how much they hate you and the 15 minutes you have to usually wait in between singing the anthem and the game kicking off - there are lots of tactics going on but it's truly a fantastic place to go and play rugby.

If England can find the same level of motivation they did in the middle half of the match against France and play that way for 75 or so minutes, they will have enough. This weekend is do or die for them.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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