Jonny May plundered a hat-trick of tries as England continued their rampaging start to the Guinness Six Nations by overwhelming France 44-8 in their biggest win against their old rivals since 1911.
May sealed his reputation as world rugby’s deadliest finisher inside half an hour, capitalising on brilliant home kicking but also showing dazzling footwork to outfox Damian Penaud from a standing start for his second.
It lifted the Leicester wing’s strike rate to 12 tries in as many Tests and helped propel England to a 30-8 half-time lead at Twickenham that included the bonus point sealed by Henry Slade’s touch down.
Eddie Jones explained the decision to select Chris Ashton ahead of Jack Nowell in the number 14 jersey as a “gut feeling” he would conjure an early try and if it was a ruse to deceive France then it worked brilliantly as all the play unfolded down May’s flank.
From the moment he crossed after a mere 65 seconds, England looked assured of victory as they swept aside possibly the poorest French team to have played in the Six Nations.
Les Blues were a rabble and Jones’ title challengers ran amok, helping themselves to six tries to deliver another ominous statement in World Cup year a week after overrunning champions Ireland 32-20 in Dublin.
It sets up a mouth-watering clash with Wales in a fortnight when the Six Nations’ only unbeaten teams collide at the Millennium Stadium.
That match might have to be played without Mako Vunipola, however, after the loosehead prop limped off to sit in the dugout with ice strapped to his left ankle.
Jones had voiced his fears over France using a variety of tricks to slow the tempo of the game and placed the onus on Nigel Owens to act against any scheming, but the matter was taken out of the Welsh official’s hands by England’s devastating precision.
They scored inside the opening three minutes for a fifth successive Test, the lightning-fast May tapping down Elliot Daly’s chip ahead after the full-back had sprinted into open space.
The try was made possible by a thunderous double tackle from Billy and Mako Vunipola that dislodged the ball from Guilhem Guirado’s grasp – just one element of a dominant home start.
Two Owen Farrell penalties extended the lead to 11-3 in the 13th minute and the one-way traffic continued when England cranked up the tempo at an attacking line-out.
Waves of forwards arrived to run off Ben Youngs at scrum-half before the Leicester half-back expertly switched play left where a long Farrell pass offered May a one-on-one with Penaud that proved all-too easy to finish.
And just before the half-hour mark May had completed his hat-trick as French incompetence was exposed for the umpteenth time.
England were wandering down a blind ally and Slade’s up and under should have been caught easily by Morgan Parra, but instead the ball spilt to Ashton who chipped on for May to touch down.
The #GuinnessSixNations table after two rounds.
Discuss... 👇 pic.twitter.com/pGKtcBIoxo— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 10, 2019
Yoann Huget engineered a try for France down the right wing that was finished by Penaud, but it was only a brief interruption to the flow of home points that continued on the stroke of half-time when Slade danced over after Ashton had almost scored.
Slade was at the heart of England’s fifth try as he intercepted Camille Lopez’s pass and kicked ahead and when Ashton was tackled without the ball, Owens awarded a generous penalty try before showing Gael Fickou a yellow card.
The carnage continued in the 55th minute when Farrell scored seconds after May had almost claimed his fourth from a move that started deep in the home half, but then all urgency drained from the game and neither line was breached again.
- Press Association