England v France - teams and predictions
NATIONS CUP FINAL: The inaugural year-end tournament finishes with England facing fellow pool winners France in a Twickenham showdown on Sunday in front of 2,000 spectators.
It will be the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that fans have been let into the ground.
England coach Eddie Jones has warned England’s colossal superiority in experience will count for little when they face a novice French outfit.
The Six Nations champions are fielding their most experienced team of all-time, with 813 caps in the starting line-up, whereas Les Bleus’ run-on side have just 68 between them – and 30 of those belong to fullback Brice Dulin.
Fabien Galthie’s visitors are the only team to beat Jones’ men this year, winning 24-17 in Paris in February – their first match since last November’s World Cup final loss.
Galthie will field a much altered side following an agreement between the country’s federation and the Top 14 clubs limiting players to three team sheet appearances in the revised end-of-year Test schedule.
“It’s no advantage,” Jones told reporters after announcing his team.
“No one gets a head start, it’s all square when we run out there on Sunday.”
The veteran Australian coach, recalling how an unfancied France surprised the All Blacks during a 2009 tour of New Zealand, added: “The first game of the tour, they didn’t have a lot of their senior players available and they won that Test.”
France will host the next World Cup and Jones said: “We know the French are capable of great things. They’ve got great depth in their Top 14.
“At the moment they’re on a project to win the World Cup in 2023 and this is part of their project. You can never under-estimate a French team.”
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World Cup lessons
Meanwhile, Jones said he would look to learn lessons from England’s experience in the build-up to the climax of the World Cup.
“We’ve changed the training week to make sure we are at our absolute best on Sunday.
“We probably learnt a little bit from the World Cup [Final] where we felt in retrospect we probably under-prepared, so we feel like we’ve got the right balance in terms of physical and recovery work this week.”
Sunday’s match will see spectators return to Twickenham for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, with 2,000 tickets on sale for the final of a tournament created after southern hemisphere sides were unable to travel to due COVID-19-10 restrictions.
“It’s such an exciting final for rugby, to have fans back, to have probably the two best sides in Europe playing in the final of an inaugural competition which has produced some good, tough rugby,” said Jones.
“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the game.”
‘Le Crunch’ loses its bite?
A final between Six Nations champions England and France, the only team to beat them this year, should be a cause for huge excitement yet it’s generating fears of a mismatch.
Following a threat of legal action by the French Top 14 clubs, unhappy at the lack of consultation over the revised calendar created in response to the pandemic, it was agreed their France stars could feature on three match sheets during the six Tests that now constitute Les Bleus’ end-of-year schedule.
France started the international window with a warm-up win over Wales, a week before the COVID-19-interrupted Six Nations resumed.
Of the matchday 23 that day, only fly-half Matthieu Jalibert, an unused replacement, survives among a talented but youthful 31-man squad for the game at Twickenham.
Nevertheless, England coach Eddie Jones, who saw his side beaten 24-17 by France in Paris in February in their first match since their World Cup Final loss to South Africa, said: “The French have always got a tough forward pack so we are going to have beat them up, up front.
“They were too good for us on that day [in February].”
Meanwhile, France coach Fabien Galthie said of an experienced England that they were “possibly the best team in the world right now because South Africa aren’t playing”.
The last time, however, there were so many fears for France’s chances at Twickenham was a 1999 World Cup semifinal against New Zealand where, with Christophe Dominici – who died aged 48 last week – scoring one of their tries, they overturned a 14-point deficit to beat the All Blacks 43-31.
Players to watch
For England: The team shows just one change to the side which beat Wales in Llanelli last weekend, with Anthony Watson coming in on the right wing for his first start of the Nations Cup. Owen Farrell captains the side from inside centre, with Eddie Jones sticking with the tried and tested No.10-No.12 axis of George Ford and Farrell. The terrible ‘twins’ – flanks Sam Underhill and Tom Curry – will again be crucial to their team’s cause.
For France: The France side contains no members of the starting XV which beat England in the Guinness Six Nations opener earlier this year due to an agreement between the national set-up and Top 14 clubs. Coach Fabien Galthie has made six changes to the team which eased past Italy last time out, with scrumhalf Baptiste Couilloud taking the captaincy on his first international start. Centre Yoram Moefana, prop Hassane Kolingar and No.8 Selevasio Tolofua will each make their France debuts at Twickenham, while Alivereti Raka comes in on the wing and Stade Rochelais’ Pierre Bourgarit starts at hooker.
Head to head
Although they will not be directly opposite each other, the battle between the left wings Jonny May and Gabin Villiere will be intriguing. They are two of the most exciting wings in the Northern Hemisphere go head-to-head in a tantalising match-up. England’s Jonny May has been in fine form during the Nations Cup and scored arguably the try of the tournament so far when he set off from inside his own 22 to touch down his second against Ireland in Round Two. Toulon ace Gabin Villiere, who has shone for France at sevens level in recent years, marked his first international 15-a-side appearance with a try against Italy last weekend. France have had success this year by playing a vibrant brand of rugby and Villiere will hope to see plenty of the ball – while he will have to be on his game defensively if May gets going.
Last 10 encounters
@rugby365com: England by 18 points
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Curry, 5 Joe Launchbury, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Max Malins, 23 Joe Marchant.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Alivereti Raka, 13 Jonathan Danty, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Baptiste Couilloud (captain), 8 Selevasio Tolofua, 7 Anthony Jelonch, 6 Cameron Woki, 5 Baptiste Pesenti, 4 Killian Geraci, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Hassane Kolingar.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Rodrigue Neti, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Guillaume Ducat, 20 Sekou Macalou, 21 Sebastien Bezy, 22 Louis Carbonel, 23 Jean Pascal Barraque.
Date: Sunday, December 6
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 14.00 (15.00 French time; 14.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Mainly cloudy and chilly, with light winds. High of 5°C and low of 1°C
Referee: Andrew Brace
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy, Craig Evans
TMO: Ben Whitehouse
* Additional reporting by autumnnationscup.com