IN the modern game, often it can seem coaches bring on replacements just for the pure sake of it.
Pity the poor scrum-half, for instance, who enters the fray with 77 minutes on the clock. Work your magic, son.
However, clearly, the main aim of a bench is to have players who can make a real impact when needed most.
England coach Eddie Jones certainly required his replacements – or “finishers” as he labels them – to do just that on Saturday and, thankfully for their hopes of a consecutive grand slam, they produced.
The Red Rose was looking decidedly wilted during a bitty, unconvincing and unfamiliarly lacklustre display.
Indeed, the Australian’s 13-match winning run since taking over seemed on course to end after one of France’s own replacements, prop Rabah Slimani, had plundered over on the hour-mark for Camille Lopez to put his side 16-12 ahead.
But Jones is renowned for being bold; scrum-half Ben Youngs, a star of the autumn, was replaced by Danny Care in the 66th minute and, just three minutes later, fly-half George Ford and centre Jonathan Joseph were both replaced, too, as the coach completely reshaped his backline.
As No 12 Owen Farrell moved to No 10, Ben Te’o slotted in at centre, Elliot Daly shifted inside from wing to outside centre, Jack Nowell going out wide.
Suddenly, France had new problems to deal with.
Another replacement – flanker James Haskell – crucially drove England forward before Care, whose innate alacrity had instantly lifted the tempo, gave swift service to Farrell.
In turn, he picked out Te’o on a lovely line and, just seconds after coming on, the former South Sydney rugby league ace had sliced through the rare hole to break French hearts.
Gutted France, who had pushed both Australia and New Zealand close in the autumn, were denied victory yet again.
However, with the brilliant Scott Spedding in such stellar form at full-back and the marauding No 8 Louis Picamoles such a force, their time will undoubtedly come as Guy Noves continues his bid to bring panache back to their ranks.
For England, this narrow win set a new national record of 15 consecutive victories, eclipsing the record of Sir Clive Woodward’s team in 2002-03.
However, although the score was level 9-9 at half-time after Camille Lopez had traded penalties with Owen Farrell (2) and Elliot Daly, the vibrant visitors were clearly the more inventive and dangerous side.
Furthermore, England had to work without Jonny May for 10 minutes, the winger who was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle, and, missing their first-choice back-row to injury and fitness issues, they did struggle.
“It was a funny first half,” conceded Ford.
“They’re a big team, a massive team especially the pack. We got a yellow card so we had to adapt to that and slow the game down.
“But when Jonny came back on we struggled to get out of that; we needed more impetus, more energy, so it’s a good lesson for us.
“We spoke at half-time about needing more urgency, and firing a few shots ourselves and getting more front–foot ball. There were glimpses in that second half of more tempo but we didn’t hold on to the ball well enough.”
Daly almost scored after Farrell’s break but a foot just grazed the touchline before touching down and they wasted a 5m attacking scrum when France forced them back just as they looked ready to crumble.
Farrell’s fourth penalty did put England briefly ahead in the 55th minute before France responded.
Bath fly-half Ford reiterated, though, how England never lost their belief they would win. “When France took the lead with 20 minutes to go, still there was no panic. That is a long time in a game of rugby. Again, there was clear messages of what we needed to do to get the ball back and get good field position.
“Then Benny Te’o scored a great try and obviously the more you win the calmer you are in those situations.”
England swiftly move on to the Millennium Stadium where they have a wretched record losing five of their last seven games there.
But Ford won there in 2015 and added: “It was the start of the Six Nations, on a Friday night. I think we had the roof open… It was an absolutely brilliant atmosphere. We came out of the changing-rooms, they turned all the lights off and we had a bit of a stand-off in the tunnel and everything that comes with that.
“It is a great place to play, Eddie has just let us know in the dressing-room that English teams have only won 40 per cent of the time in Cardiff. But we will be excited about going there.”
England: Brown; May, Joseph (Nowell 69), Farrell, Daly; Ford (Te’o 69), Youngs (Care 66); Marler (Mullan 66), Hartley (George 55), Cole, Launchbury (Haskell 64), Lawes, Itoje, Wood, Hughes.
France: Spedding; Nakaitaci, Lamerat (Huget 72), Fickou, Vakatawa; Lopez (Doussain 72), Serin (Machenaud 57); Baille (Slimani 46), Guirado (Maynadier 72), Atonio (Chiocci 46), Vahaamahina (Iturria 72), Maestri, Chouly (Goujon 64), Gourdon, Picamoles.
Referee: A Gardner (Australia).