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England v France - teams and prediction

SIX NATIONS, ROUND FOUR: Steve Borthwick has put his reputation and that of Marcus Smith on the line after recalling the flyhalf in place of dropped England captain Owen Farrell for Saturday’s Six Nations clash against France.

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It is the first time the benched Farrell, a veteran of more than a hundred Tests, has been omitted from a full-strength England side since their opening match of the 2015 World Cup.

Farrell’s absence from the starting XV to face reigning champions France at Twickenham in the latest edition of ‘Le Crunch’ means prop forward Ellis Genge will captain England for the first time.

Smith was the starting flyhalf, with Farrell at inside centre, for former England captain Borthwick’s first game in charge since succeeding the sacked Eddie Jones – a 23-29 tournament-opening defeat by Scotland at Twickenham.

Farrell was then restored to the No.10 shirt for the subsequent wins over Italy and Wales.

But Borthwick, with a speedy approach seen as a way to counter France, said: “I want to pick a team that is specific to the game against the opposition that we’re playing.

“I feel that this is the right blend,” he added of a side where Smith is the only change to the starting XV that defeated Wales 20-10 in Cardiff.

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Borthwick also pointed out that this was not the first big selection call he had made, having picked the 39-year-old Richard Wigglesworth at scrum half instead of Ben Youngs, England’s most-capped player, for Leicester’s Premiership final win over Saracens last year.

“If you were to track all the teams I’ve selected there have been some pretty bold decisions,” said Borthwick.

Smith is regarded as a ‘flair’ player and, having been released by Borthwick to play for Harlequins against Exeter last weekend, showed plenty of creative touches in a 40-5 win for the London club.

But whether Smith will get the same time and space against France remains to be seen.

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Smith also landed five out of six goal-kicks against Exeter, with the usually reliable Farrell managing a meagre success rate of just 47 percent in three games this Six Nations.

England cannot afford to squander points but Borthwick insisted: “There are wider aspects to be considered within this game and game-plan, not simply the goalkicking.”

*Article continues below…

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‘Temple of world rugby’

Tournament leaders Ireland’s 32-19 second-round defeat of France dashed Les Bleus’ hopes of consecutive Grand Slams.

But that reverse was still just the 2023 World Cup hosts’ first loss in 15 Tests.

“They’ve been building that plan for three, three-and-a-half-years,” said Borthwick of a France team who boast a long-kicking game as well as a superb back division led by captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont.

“We’ve been building for three games,” the England coach added. “We have to find some other ways given we can’t accelerate three-and-a-half years of development.”

France coach Fabien Galthie has recalled centre Jonathan Danty, a powerful ball carrier, in one of three changes to his side as the visitors seek a first Six Nations win at Twickenham in 18 years.

Defeat for either side on Saturday could end their title hopes, with Galthie saying: “We’re not on top, it’s the Irish, but we have the desire to not give the trophy up.”

As for the difficulty of playing at Twickenham, the former France scrum-half added: “Everything is possible. I don’t know what we’ll experience. No-one knows. We prepare, that’s why I’m at ease.

“It’s a temple of world rugby, where rugby was born. Even if England aren’t performing well, they’re still part of the giants of world rugby.”

Players to watch: 

For England: All eyes will be on England flyhalf Marcus Smith. The No.10 will take the role of playmaker and will be entrusted with dictating the play in the absence of captain Owen Farrell, who moves to the bench. Ellis Genge takes over the captaincy. Its a big moment for Genge, who is joined by prop Kyle Sinckler and hooker Jamie George. England coach Steve Borthwick did not gamble with the pack and he stuck with the same pack that recorded a 20-10 win over Wales. Flanks Jack Willis and Lewis Ludlam, along with Alex Dombrandt at number eight, complete the pack. Ollie Lawrence is at inside centre, Henry Slade stays at outside centre. Anthony Watson is on the left wing, Max Malins is on the right wing and Freddie Steward is fullback.

For France: Coach Fabien Galthié made three changes to the side. Jonathan Danty replaces Yoram Moefana in the midfield. Danty, a powerful ball carrier, made the last of his 19 Test appearances in November and has played three club games since recovering from a knee injury. Toulouse tighthead prop Dorian Aldegheri comes in for the banned Mohamed Haouas with Sipili Falatea on the bench for a fourth straight Test. Aldegheri will line up alongside club teammates Julien Marchand and Cyril Baille in the front row. In the final change, Francois Cros takes the place of injured Anthony Jelonch for Saturday’s game at Twickenham.

Head-to-head:

England v France - teams and prediction

Last 10 encounters:

England v France - teams and prediction

Prediction

@rugby365com: France by five points.

Teams: 

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Max Malins, 13. Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Jack van Poortvliet, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Jack Willis, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 5 Ollie Chessum, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge (captain).
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Henry Arundell.

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Francois Cros, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Thibaud Flament, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Sekou Macalou, 21 Maxime Lucu, 22 Yoram Moefana, 23 Melvyn Jaminet.

Date: Saturday, March 11
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16.45 (17.45 French time; 16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Light rains and a gentle breeze with a high of 8°C and a low of 5°C.
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)

AFP & @rugby365com

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