Jones 'wary' of depleted France
SPOTLIGHT: England coach Eddie Jones is braced for a gruelling encounter when his side go in search of year-end Nations Cup glory at Twickenham.
They will arguably be up against something less than a France second XV.
Following a threat of legal action by France’s Top 14 clubs, unhappy at the lack of consultation over the revised calendar created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and fearful of the risk of injuries to key men, it was agreed that their France stars could make only three appearances 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-interrupted Six Nations resumed.
Of the matchday 23 that day, only fly-half Matthieu Jalibert, an unused replacement, survives among the 31-man squad for the December 6 game at Twickenham.
France are the only team to have defeated England this year, denying the eventual Six Nations champions a Grand Slam with a 24-17 win in Paris in February.
That was England’s first match since losing last year’s World Cup Final to South Africa.
“France were too good for us on that day,” recalled Jones after England booked their place in the final with a 24-13 win away to Wales in Llanelli on Saturday.
“Whatever France has in store for us, we will be delighted to play against them.”
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‘Beat them up’
“They are a good team. The French have always got a tough forward pack, so up front we are going to have beat them up,” the veteran Australian coach added.
“The challenge is get on top of them up front and then we can create some space out wide so we can play a bit.”
Meanwhile France coach Fabien Galthie, who saw his already changed side beat Italy 36-5 in Paris on Saturday, was in no doubt about the scale of the challenge facing his players.
“We’re expecting a match against possibly the best team in the world maybe right now because South Africa aren’t playing,” said Galthie.
Some 2,000 spectators are set to be present for the England-France match as fans return to Twickenham for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.
But whether they will see a match that excites them is an open question, with a defence dominant Nations Cup raising fresh concerns that the very nature of professional rugby union undermines attacking play.
“We have got 15 incredibly athletic players who are all trained to be bigger, faster and stronger and the field has not changed size,” said Jones.
“When I played rugby 30 years ago only seven people defended the field because you had eight people at the ruck,” added Jones, a former hooker with Sydney club Randwick.
“Now we have got 15 players able to defend the field, it is just getting harder and harder to break them down.
“Defences are coming off the line harder so you have got to attack rush defence, which is a new set of skills that our players are slowly developing.”