LONDON — England showed its demolition of Ireland was no fluke by crushing France 44-8 at Twickenham to remain unbeaten in Six Nations rugby on Sunday.
Coach Eddie Jones promised England would be even better after upsetting the reigning champion in Dublin on the opening weekend, and his side was merciless in its biggest win against France in 108 years.
Where England overwhelmed Ireland with power and pressure, this time it showed savvy and smarts to pickpocket the French with chip kicks and grubbers.
France wasn’t that bad. But the decision to put two centres on the wings, and a wing at fullback, was ruthlessly exposed as three of England’s four tries in the first half came from expertly weighted kicks in behind the defence where no blue jerseys were anywhere near.
By halftime, England had a bonus-point fourth try. Winger Jonny May had a hat trick in the first half-hour.
May scored England’s first try after just 64 seconds, the third straight match he’s scored in the first two minutes. Also remarkably, it was the fifth consecutive match England has scored in the first two minutes.
Only England and Wales have won their first two matches — England far more impressively — which perfectly sets up their showdown in the next round in two weeks in Cardiff.
France captain Guilhem Guirado was an unwitting culprit in England’s first two scores. His dropped catch started the counterattack which saw fullback Elliot Daly weave into French territory and kick ahead for May to easily outsprint the defence and pounce on the ball just 64 seconds in.
That was faster than his try in 91 seconds against Ireland, and in two minutes against Australia in November.
Guirado was then penalized for not rolling away in a ruck and Owen Farrell gave England an 8-0 lead in the rain.
Farrell and Morgan Parra traded penalties, and France was settling in, easily defusing England’s multiple kicks from hand and lack of chasers.
But when England finally got a lineout in the French 22, it paid off. England pounded the defence and Farrell passed out left to May, who stepped opposite Damian Penaud and was over.
Five minutes later, Parra spilled a high ball on his 22, England wing Chris Ashton recovered and grubbered and the chasing May was under no pressure to tap down and complete his hat trick, the first by an Englishman against France since Henry Jacob in 1924.
With his 12th try in his last 12 tests, May eclipsed New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane to be test rugby’s highest try-scorer since the start of 2018.
Farrell converted for 23-3 and victory was certain, even after Penaud finished a counterattack started by fullback Yoann Huget, who slipped three tackles.
England merely brushed that off and scored on halftime when a Ben Youngs grubber kick was scooped up by Ashton and taken to the posts. Prop Kyle Sinckler played scrumhalf to centre Henry Slade, who stepped Guirado for England’s fourth try and a 30-8 lead.
Huget, who took a head knock according to France, was replaced by a real fullback, debutant Thomas Ramos, at halftime. But France only reduced the bleeding in the second half as England threw on reserves and rested stars such as Mako Vunipola, George Kruis, Ashton, and Sinckler in the third quarter.
By then, Ashton had bombed a try by dropping a lob pass from Manu Tuilagi, but earned a penalty try when he was tackled off the ball from behind by opposite Gael Fickou.
Farrell scored the sixth and last England try, and converted it, after a quick tap penalty and another kick ahead was messed up by France under pressure from May.
The last 25 minutes went scoreless, but England had stepped up from the win over Ireland for its biggest win over France since a 37-0 result in 1911.