Austin Healey believes England have nothing to fear when they take on France this weekend, suggesting their Six Nations opponents have already mentally checked out after a dismal first-round defeat to Wales.
France surrendered a 16-0 half-time lead as Wales staged a remarkable comeback to triumph 24-19 in Paris.
While Les Bleus will need to bounce back from the humiliation of last weekend, England will run out at Twickenham as newly-installed Six Nations favourites after stunning Ireland with a shock bonus-point victory in Dublin that has blown the tournament wide open.
In one of the most impressive performances of the Eddie Jones era, England scored four tries to inflict Ireland’s first Six Nations defeat in Dublin for six years.
Ahead of his appearance on Rugby Tonight, BTSport.com sat down with Austin Healey to dissect a thrilling opening weekend and look ahead to round two.
“Ireland were beaten at their own game by England,” said Healey, who won 51 caps during a six-year international career.
“England did everything that Ireland normally do to England, defensively they broke down Ireland’s A-game.
“It will be a huge concern for the Irish that, when plan-A wasn’t effective, they didn’t seem to have a plan B.
“When you have such a one-dimensional approach and suddenly that’s stopped at the gain-line, then you’re going to run into trouble.”
Head coach Joe Schmidt admitted Ireland were ‘man-handled’ by the visitors’ defence, adding the defeat was a ‘reality check’ for his side, who have been billed the most likely contenders to claim New Zealand’s World Cup crown later this year.
Schmidt's assessment was echoed by Healey: “It will probably end up being a good thing for Ireland in the context of the World Cup, because now they’ll have to think about establishing a secondary option and get better at recognising when the game’s not going their way.
“They’ve been pretty invincible for quite some time now in the Six Nations so it will be a blow but sometimes those knocks make you stronger – other times they affect your confidence and it takes a long time to get it back.
“A lot of the Irish supporters were get carried away with how good Ireland are – so this is a reality check!”
With France expected to bring one of the biggest packs in recent history to Twickenham this Sunday, does Healey think the hosts will have to tweak their attritional approach?
“It’s going to be interesting to see how England adapt their gameplan,” said Healey.
“But you have to trust Jones. He and John Mitchell both deserve a huge amount of credit for the way they prepared that team last Saturday.”
While Maku Vunipola was awarded the man of the match award for his gargantuan effort in defence, another standout performance came from Henry Slade.
The Exeter Chiefs centre was singled out by Jones, who said: “You build players mentally by picking them because then they know you love them and we’ve done that with him. He’s played seven of our last eight Tests at outside centre so he knows I love him and that helps.”
Healey joked: “Eddie’s obviously got a man crush on him! I think quite a few English supporters will have, too, after that performance.
“I thought he was outstanding. He’s shown glimpses of what he’s capable of, both in an Exeter shirt and occasionally in an England shirt, but he looked the complete outside centre on Saturday.
“Maybe it was playing outside Manu Tuilagli that helped and that partnership looks really dangerous.
“That combination at 10-12-13 is so strong, I think it could carry us all the way through the tournament and onto Japan.
France will be bidding to end their 14-year wait for a Six Nations victory at Twickenham, but Healey believes Jacques Brunel will struggle to lift his side after such a shambolic defeat.
Wales’ match-winning score came after a moment of madness from lock Sebastien Vahaamahina, who threw an aimless, looping miss-pass that George North picked off and ran in under the posts to seal a famous Welsh comeback.
After the match, Vahaamahina added insult to injury by revealing he was unaware he was captaining the side once hooker Guilhem Guirado has been replaced in the second half.
“France have already gone mentally,” said Healey. “How can somebody say ‘I didn’t know I was the captain’?
“In glimpses Vahaamahina is an incredible player and he’s a brilliant athlete. But he always does something ridiculously stupid in every game he plays in. That pass was just unbelievable – I couldn’t believe he threw it.
“Let’s be honest, France didn’t do anything special in the first 40 minutes. It was mind boggling watching that game, it was like watching two teams out of the Championship.
“How can they bring in Camille Chat, and he says he can’t join the squad until Thursday because he’s on holiday? How can these things happen – it beggars belief.
“France need a headmaster figure to take control and turn them around because it is a massive rugby nation and the national team is letting the country down.
“On that performance, neither of those two sides will scare the rest of the competition, including Italy."
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