England handed World Cup wake-up call by classy France

Getty Images

Stuart Lancaster was left with plenty of food for thought as England were outclassed for 70 minutes in a 25-20 defeat to France in Paris.

With less than a month until England host the Rugby World Cup, this fixture should have given Lancaster a better idea of his first-choice starting XV after fielding an experimental side in last weekend's 19-14 win over the same opponents at Twickenham.

But a far more familiar line-up struggled to find their feet against a confident-looking French outfit, with Frederic Michalak's steady stream of penalties opening up a comfortable first-half advantage for the hosts - the fly-half becoming his country's leading Test point scorer in the process.

Holding a 15-6 lead at the interval, France moved further ahead early in the second period when Yoann Huget shrugged off a series of challenges to go over, but a sequence of changes appeared to give England a lift.

With fringe players coming off the bench to stake their claim for a place in Lancaster's 31-man selection, Danny Cipriani and Jonathan Joseph went over in the last 10 minutes to skew a scoreline that does not tell the whole story.

France moved into an early lead as Scott Spedding collected three points with a penalty from inside his own half after Luther Burrell was penalised for not rolling away.

England were struggling to settle and Michalak stepped up to take France's next penalty before delivering his record-breaking kick to send the hosts 9-0 in front.

Michalak's next attempt drifted off target but France were firmly in control and soon found themselves 12-0 up as England floundered at set-pieces.

George Ford, like the rest of the England team, had failed to find his stride in the early stages and, after finally getting the visitors on the board in the 27th minute, saw his next kick from the halfway line fall well short.

Michalak and Ford exchanged a further penalty apiece before Huget carved up the English defence in the 45th minute, dancing around full-back Mike Brown and dashing for the line to give France a healthy and deserved cushion.

Jamie George was handed his England debut after 48 minutes, before Cipriani and Billy Twelvetrees were afforded an opportunity to make their own respective cases for a place in Lancaster's squad.

A flimsy Stade de France pitch did England no favours as they looked to make some kind of progress in the scrum and Michalak added another three points to the scoreline to further compound England's misery.

England barely threatened in attack for the most part but gave the scoreline a flattering edge in the closing 10 minutes - Cipriani barging his way over the whitewash before Joseph was released down the left to touch down.

France consistently find their form for a World Cup and they look to be kicking into gear at the right time once again.


>