The emotions surrounding England Rugby are now running higher than ever courtesy of Saturday evening's match in Paris. For those of you that saw the encounter you will know what I mean when I say that it wasn't a glorious 80 minutes of rugby, in fact by all accounts it was a tough watch.
England headed out to France with a full strength side and the starting XV that could easily run out at Twickenham Stadium to start the Rugby World Cup in just four weeks time. The selection of such a strong side meant that there was an expectation that the performance would be mighty and of the statement making variety. However as the match progressed it was the work of Philippe Saint-André's side that made heads turn and not that of England.
The crux of England's issues stemmed from 'rusty' execution, a lack of discipline and a shaky set piece. The poor opening half left Chris Robshaw and his side with a mountain to climb in the second and although they started to tick from seventy minutes onwards it was too little too late. So the question is, with 25 days to go until the tournament starts and one week until the formal deadline to submit a 31 man squad, should we and indeed Stuart Lancaster be panicking? Unsurprisingly, my answer is no.
Of course this speed bump wasn't supposed to arrive, a loss of this manner wasn't ever part of the plan however it has happened and must be dealt with. For the majority of England's XV Saturday night was their first competitive hit out since May and for others it was their first in a lot longer, the likes of Joe Launchbury and Mike Brown.
The cobwebs were there for us all to see however that doesn't make any of England's personnel poor rugby players. Bar Danny Cirpriani I doubt that there will be a single England player that will feel content with their own performance on Saturday night and as a collective they'll be extremely harsh on themselves. Yes there are areas of concern, in particular England's pack, for this was the second week in a row that they were pushed around however we know that they are capable of delivering world class output.
From a selection perspective the match will have done little to help Stuart Lancaster with his conundrums and England's head coach now has some tough decisions to make. The limited test match game time that he has been able to give to some players means that some decisions may be based more on what individuals have delivered in camp than their warm up match performances. Needless to say the pressure is on England's head coach and his team to make the big calls and ensure that they are the right ones. We all know that a Rugby World Cup squad differs to one that is required for a one off Test and their choices will be fascinating to see.
The long and the short of it is this; England did not perform to the best of their ability on Saturday evening, far from it, however one below par performance does not condemn them to a poor tournament and it will not define this team. For sure this hiccup will test their togetherness and character however I genuinely believe that once the 31 are named their performance against Ireland will be leagues away from Saturday night. So my parting message is to have a little faith in England rugby and remember that there is a very well known phrase about dress rehearsals for a reason.