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Matt Dawson column: England need to recognise prime time to attack

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Matt Dawson

To win a World Cup, you have to be able to adapt under the biggest pressure and on the biggest occasion.

That is what the All Blacks or South Africa would do. That is what England did in 2003.

It is not always going to go your way. Even if you are overwhelming favourites, you will play some games that you know you should win that you will end up losing.

That is why I am even more pleased with England’s Autumn Nations Cup sudden-death win in extra time against an inexperienced France side.

England were matched physically up front and if you look at the previous occasions when that has happened they have usually lost the game. This time they dug themselves out of it.

Eddie Jones’ side are naturally going to be favourites in most matches for the next two or three years but they are going to play against teams that are not as good on them on paper but can match them if they play out of their skins.

That is what France did. They were missing so many stars who were unable to play because of an agreement with the Top 14 league but there were plenty of good French players with the potential to light it up.

No matter the circumstances, you have got to know how to win games and this was a classic example from England.

‘England must take opportunities if they want a Grand Slam’

England have a chance at the Grand Slam when the Six Nations starts in two months, but they will only win it if they take their opportunities.

They have a good cycle of fixtures, with just two away matches, against Ireland and Wales.

France’s performance in Sunday’s final showed that the Six Nations is going to come down to them and England.

Les Bleus are the only team in the northern hemisphere that can physically compete with England over 80 minutes.

France’s second team were playing at Twickenham, but a full-strength side will travel to south-west London in March for the penultimate round of the Six Nations.

To win that match, England will have to be more accurate than they were on Sunday.

They are only going to get three opportunities against a side like France. They have to score at least two of those chances if they want to win the game.

England score a try
England scored one try against France, when Luke Cowan-Dickie went over in a maul

In the final, France did not get many chances. You might even argue they had one chance, and they scored one try through Brice Dulin.

That is the standard required. England, on the other hand, should have scored at the end of the first half when they were camped on France’s line.

There were two chances when Elliot Daly passed to Anthony Watson on the right wing. The first, Daly passed a bit too early, and the second went to Watson’s feet. They should have scored at least one of those.

‘England need to recognise prime time to attack’

I want to know what England are doing in training in terms of attack. Time after time there are opportunities that England are not going for.

I do not look at the England side and see a huge threat in the backline even though individually you look at the players and think how good they are. It is all so lateral.

Against France, they went through all their usual kick and chase protocols and there were overlaps they did not want to attack.

On a couple of occasions it could be argued that it paid off because they got three points from the ensuing penalty but other times those decisions could have got them in trouble.

You get into the habit of not being able to complete those processes. If you are in the groove and used to doing it you get ruthless and you finish people off. The attack just does not seem joined up to me.

Rather than keep kicking the ball away, they need to recognise when it is prime time to attack, and England have the skills to be able to do it.

Henry Slade evades a tackle
England centre Henry Slade impressed in Exeter’s backline as the side won the Premiership and Champions Cup last season

‘We’ve not seen what Farrell has to offer this autumn’

England captain Owen Farrell has so much to offer but we have not seen it this autumn and I do not know why.

He missed four kicks against France, including one that could have ended the game early in sudden death.

All kickers, even at the standard of Owen Farrell, have off days. Most kickers would have either passed the baton on to George Ford or would not have got the ones under pressure.

The fact that he still had the mental capability to kick the penalty that won the game under the most pressure shows the animal that he is.

My concerns around Owen are just that we talk about him being a points machine but he has so much more.

For England he has been a ferocious tackler, distributor, creative player but maybe his role has slightly changed now.

Matt Dawson was speaking to BBC Sport’s Becky Grey.

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