Wilkinson chief villain in England's pantomime of indecision
England 12 France 19
The disturbing realisation that the level of England's play, far from progressing, had actually regressed, did not take long to take root.
Where was the sharp-eyed sense of opportunism that had seen Ben Youngs announce himself so thrillingly on the international stage barely 12 months ago? Against France, we saw only panic.
England reverted to type, dropping Toby Flood -- at out-half when they eviscerated Australia last November, and when they won in Cardiff en route to a first Six Nations title in eight years -- promoting Jonny Wilkinson, only to then fling the pair together just 72 hours before their biggest game in the last four years.
What happened to that slavish devotion to Shontayne Hape or the use of Mike Tindall as a makeshift No 12? England appeared to make it all up at the last minute, and it showed in a first half of comic proportions.
There was a clownish feel to many of the errors made by England. The opening half an hour was a pantomime. England were fretful, clunky, stressed and inconsequential, all of which was manna from heaven for a France side seeking salvation.
How can England have gone from smooth, accomplished performers to such an indecisive lot, bereft of fluency and self-belief? Wilkinson's presence cramped the team's attacking game.
By the time they discovered it, it was too late. Tries by Vincent Clerc and Maxime Medard were easily conceded. England had no one to match the shrewdness or imperiousness of Imanol Harinordoquy and Dimitri Yachvili, whose box-kicking game tormented England as it has so often done.
This was not an irresistible French performance. They played with verve initially but that was it.
England ought to have been able to deal with what was against them but they gave France too much leeway. Second-half tries from Ben Foden and Mark Cueto gave the scoreboard a flourish but England were comfortably beaten.
They had made it all too easy for France, a fact that will haunt them forever and a day. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
England -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tuilagi, T Flood, M Cueto; J Wilkinson (M Banahan 65), B Youngs (R Wigglesworth 65); M Stevens (A Corbisiero 49), S Thompson (D Hartley 56), D Cole; L Deacon (Saw 49), T Palmer; T Croft (C Lawes 46), L Moody (J Haskell 63), N Easter. Tries: Foden, Cueto; con: Wilkinson.
France -- M Medard; V Clerc, A Rougerie (D Marty 68), M Mermoz, A Palisson; M Parra, D Yachvili (F Trinh-Duc 53); J-B Poux (F Barcella 56), W Servat (D Szarzewski 56), N Mas; P Pape (J Pierre 65), L Nallet; T Dusautoir, J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy (L Picamoles 72). Tries: Clerc, Medard; pens: Yachvili 2. D-g: Trinh-Duc.
Ref -- S Walsh (Australia)