England were overwhelmed 53-10 by France at Twickenham in a record defeat that removed them from Guinness Six Nations title contention and delivered an alarming reality check to Steve Borthwick’s rebuilding project.
Trailing 27-3 at half-time – their highest interval deficit at Twickenham in any fixture – they were in the midst of full-blown crisis having been taken apart up front.
Thomas Ramos, Thibaud Flament and Charles Ollivon had crossed with alarming ease and England looked completely lost as fault lines opened in their defence, kicking, breakdown and discipline.
The gulf between the rivals was embarrassing as the World Cup hosts registered their first Six Nations victory at Twickenham since 2005 in a glorious return to form having laboured through much of the tournament.
And it only gets harder for Borthwick’s men as, having faced the team positioned second in the global rankings, they must travel to Dublin next Saturday to take on Grand Slam-chasing Ireland, who occupy the summit.
Marcus Smith did everything he could having ousted Farrell at fly-half, but with his forwards dismantled at every turn he was powerless to halt the collapse.
For all the talk of England playing with pace, it was France who raced out of the blocks and when lock Paul Willemse offloaded out of the tackle they were away, with Ethan Dumortier sending Ramos over in the left corner.
Ramos added a penalty to reward another Les Bleus attack and with only 10 minutes on the clock it was already looking bleak for the hosts.
England were hamstrung by their discipline at the breakdown and apart from a forceful run by Steward they were struggling to make any impression as rain began to fall.
Inroads were made through the maul but with Jack van Poortvliet fumbling again, the progress was lost and the familiar sight of France rampaging downfield resumed.
Antoine Dupont grew in influence as he weaved his magic around the ruck but it was the power of forwards François Cros and Flament that did the damage for the next try.
Flament crossed in the 26th minute but it was too easy for the lock as passive England were overpowered in contact.
And their scrum defence was horribly exposed in first-half injury-time when Gregory Alldritt charged forward and seeing blue shirts lined up in support, sent Ollivon crashing over.
England needed to act quickly and hope appeared to have arrived when Smith delivered a terrific kick on the run for Max Malins but the wing knocked-on over the line.
It was now France’s defence that was disintegrating and after waves of attacks they were breached with Steward riding a tackle to slide over.
England quickly renewed their attack but the fightback faltered when a cruel bounce deceived their backfield defence, allowing Romain Ntamack to flick the ball to Flament who scored.
And there was more misfortune when Smith was driven over his line by Dupont as he covered for a kick and Ollivon touched down when he let go of the ball before two late tries by wing Penaud drove the final nail into England’s coffin.