As Stuart Lancaster woke up this morning I expect that he was feeling pretty content with the match that unfolded in front of his eyes last night for by anyone's standards, including his own, England's first hit out was a positive one. Of course there are areas that weren't perfect including the set piece and the number of penalties given away however overall his side acquitted themselves well and delivered the victory that was required and expected of them.
The selection choices that England's coaching team made were designed to 'create opportunities' and test those they needed to see more from. For many of the twenty three it would have been the sternest and most pressured test of their careers. The opportunity to be part of a home Rugby World Cup is monumental and knowing that one test against France could be your only shot to prove yourself is intense, to say the very least. That said, it is fair to say that across the board England's personnel remained cool and calm and worked as a collective to deliver the result. Across the board none went off course and tried too hard in order to shine and in doing so a number pleased Lancaster immensely.
Without question one of the youngest players on the field, Henry Slade, stepped up to the mark. Slade defied his years and lack of any true Test experience with an assured all around performance; his hands were like gold dust and instrumental in Watson's first try as well as delivering a strong kicking option to keep France guessing. As one half of the most talked about partnership on the field the Exeter Chief did everything that he could to press his own case however when it comes to the crunch his centre partner may just eclipse him, unless Lancaster believes there is room for both.
Nine months on from his Union debut 'Slammin Sam' made his full England debut and less than a minute into the match smashed Swarzewski into smithereens. It was the perfect way to introduce himself to the opposition and to the crowd as Twickenham erupted. Crucially for Burgess this wasn't his only colossal hit and post game his 'physicality' came in for praise from Lancaster alongside his 'decision making'. It wasn't a faultless performance; his yellow wasn't ideal however he added the type of presence in the midfield that is required. Burgess makes oppositions think, he draws in defenders and sets the tone for others to follow, it was exactly the type of debut the Bath man would have wished for and topping the tackle count was a statistical manifestation of his work rate. Of any man on the field Burgess had the most pressure on his shoulders and he did what those at Bath knew he would do, step up. He is at home on the big stage, he invites others to trust him and with his presence and temperament lifts sides. If he doesn't get another hit out prior to Stuart selecting his final squad has he done enough? My gut feel says that he has.
Of course this match wasn't just the Slade and Burgess show; there were others that shone; Alex Goode and the two wing men in particular. Goode didn't put a foot wrong, Jonny May has put on muscle without losing any of his pace, a tough thing to do and Anthony Watson's two tries were absolute peaches - the first in particular. Owen Farrell executed, although I still believe George Ford is firmly England's first choice and off the bench Haskell made his presence known in the second forty.
England weren't perfect, up front there were more issues than Graham Rownetree would have liked, the lineout didn't function well in the second half and the breakdown was positively placid compared to those that we have seen in recent Rugby Championship matches. That said the objective of the match was to provide opportunities and aid selection and undoubtedly last night's match did that.Suggest a correction