France turned Marcus Smith and his team-mates into Les Miserables

OLIVER HOLT AT TWICKENHAM: Bedraggled, battered and humiliated… France turned Marcus Smith and his team-mates into Les Miserables with England’s record home 10-53 defeat

  • England suffered their worst ever defeat at Twickenham losing 10-53 to France
  • Marcus Smith had an evening to forget after being picked over Owen Farrell
  • The loss was not his fault and it’d be a shame if he got scorned and marginalised 

It was, it is probably safe to say, not quite the scenario that Marcus Smith had been hoping for when he was chosen ahead of Owen Farrell and told to lead England into a brave new world of pace and creativity and fast ball. 

Anointed the leader of a revolution, the game was seconds away from half time, England were being overrun and overwhelmed by France and Smith was staring down the barrel of a gun.

The Harlequins fly half was on his own try line as the French burst away from a scrum deep inside the England 22. The ball was passed to flanker Charles Ollivon and he started to charge towards the line. He looked up for a second and weighed up his options. He saw Smith, willing but slight, put his head down and made straight for him like a bull charging at a drunken reveller at a fiesta.

Smith braced himself. Ollivon ran right at him. Then he ran straight through him. If you remember Jonah Lomu running over Mike Catt at Newlands in the 1995 World Cup semi-final, then you will get the picture. 

It was brutal. When Smith got up and dusted himself down, England were 27-3 behind, the most points they have ever conceded in the first half of a Six Nations game at Twickenham.

England suffered their worst ever defeat at Twickenham losing 10-53 to France in Six Nations 

Marcus Smith had an evening to forget on Saturday after being picked over Owen Farrell

The loss was not Smith’s fault and it’d be a shame if he got scorned and marginalised

A revolution? If this was a revolution, it didn’t even take the Post Office. It certainly didn’t storm the Bastille. If you’re going to start a revolution, it might be best not to try and do it against a France team like this. 

They might be in the same hemisphere as England but these two sides are on different planets. At the end of the match, England were bedraggled, battered and humiliated. France had turned Smith and his teammates into Les Miserables.

This was less Le Crunch and more Le Munch. England got chewed up and spat out. ‘Aghast at what England have delivered today,’ former World Cup winning scrum-half Matt Dawson wrote. 

This was France’s first victory at Twickenham for 18 years and as slumpbusters go, it was spectacular. This 53-10 reverse was England’s third heaviest defeat ever and their worst defeat at Twickenham by a distance. As lines on a resume go…well, Smith might want to buy some Tipp-ex and get to work with it.

Poor Smith. He may take some time to recover from this. It was supposed to be the match that placed him at the heart of a new start for England under Steve Borthwick, a move away from the roundhead style epitomised by Farrell and towards a more exciting and cavalier style. 

It would be a shame if the experiment ended here and Smith went the way Danny Cipriani went before him, scorned and marginalised. He is better than that.

This defeat was not his fault, of course. England were outclassed in every area and if it is tempting to linger over the litany of errors and shortcomings that damned their performance, it is just as legitimate to marvel at the skills of Antoine Dupont, who played an enchanted brand of rugby that cast a spell over England and made them look desperately limited. England do not have a talent like Dupont. No one has a talent like Dupont.

It was a tough day for captain Ellis Genge, who lead England out in place of Owen Farrell  

Everyone suffers in comparison but in this particular match, it was Smith who was in the spotlight and the spotlight was not kind to him. He showed bursts of imagination and daring but very little that he did came off. 

There was the crossfield kick to Max Malins that Malins dived full length to try to touch down but just failed to get under control. There were the odd line breaks which were stifled before they could cause real damage.

But mostly, there were symbols of failure, symbols of being outclassed by France. Midway through the second half, Smith chased another brilliant kick from Dupont back towards England’s try line and his momentum sent him skidding along the turf further into danger. 

Dupont was on him in a flash and forced him over the line before Smith could touch it down. Smith was powerless and Ollivon, his tormentor once again, got his hand to it in the melee. That made the score 41-10 to the French.

The camera picked out Smith’s disconsolate face in the aftermath of the try. It was a feature of the match broadcast most of the afternoon. If only the match had been on the BBC, maybe England could have claimed a Lineker Exemption and got it blacked out and boycotted. No such luck, I’m afraid. The revolution was televised and it made for ugly, ugly viewing.

Where now for England and Smith and Borthwick? ‘Can we have Eddie back please?’ one fan asked on an online feed. This was only Borthwick’s fourth game in charge and it has been one hell of a baptism. 

It was France’s first victory at Twickenham for 18yrs and as slumpbusters go, it was spectacular

Antoine Dupont played an enchanted brand of rugby that cast a spell over England

The World Cup is only six months away and it is looking as if England will have lost three of their five matches in this Six Nations. Ireland await in Dublin next weekend and although nothing is certain in sport, England look light years behind them and the French.

It is to be hoped that Borthwick sticks with Smith at 10 but he will have to withstand a flurry of calls for the restoration of Farrell, who made a marginal improvement when he came on at centre five minutes into the second half. 

The mind bends towards safety and familiarity in a crisis and that is what Farrell represents. But he also represents limitation. He represents a style that will never get England close to playing the kind of rugby France played at Twickenham.

Smith was overrun this time. He was trampled this time. But it was that he was not good enough for England. It was that England were not good enough for him. Not against this France team anyway. The World Cup feels like a lost cause already. If England want to build for the future, they need to start now. They need to stay with Smith because however tough things get for him, they will not get tougher than this.

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