Preview: England v France
SIX NATIONS ROUND TWO: England captain Owen Farrell says his side are taking nothing for granted as they prepare to face a wounded France.
Farrell’s men go into Sunday’s clash at Twickenham on the back of an impressive 32-20 first-round win away to Ireland in Dublin that denied the reigning Six Nations champions back-to-back Grand Slams.
France, by contrast, will be trying to bounce back after squandering a 16-0 half-time lead in a 24-19 defeat by Wales in Paris.
It is also 14 years since Les Bleus last beat England at Twickenham, an 18-17 success built on six penalties from the boot of Dimitri Yachvili.
France coach Jacques Brunel has unveiled a physically powerful team on Friday that saw giant centre Mathieu Bastareaud restored to midfield and Farrell said: “They are a very big team, very tough to play against.
“They can suck you in by playing one way and delivering in another,” added the flyhalf, speaking at England’s training headquarters near London after head coach Eddie Jones had announced his side.
“If you switch off for two seconds they will punish you because they have dangerous players across the park.
“We have to make sure that we are fully connected in what we are doing as a group and ready for anything.”
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Farrell’s comments were underlined by Jones, who pointed to the six changes made by Brunel to his starting XV as proof of France’s squad depth.
“They are a team full of talent,” said Jones, whose side have been drawn in the same pool as France for the World Cup in Japan later this year.
“I think they’ve made six changes to their team from the previous week so, again, they rely a lot on individual talents but they’ve got guys that can break the game open.
“We just have to be very well organised and absolutely brutal in our defence.”
Bastareaud returns but England have a hugely powerful centre of their own in Manu Tuilagi, who made his first Six Nations start since 2013 against Ireland after several injury-plagued years.
Jones dismissed talk of a colossal midfield collision by saying: “Centres don’t play each other, that’s the reality.
“They [France] play left and right centre. It won’t be Manu’s responsibility to stop him [Bastareaud], it’ll be whoever is defending in front of him.
“He’s a good player and we’ll show him plenty of respect but I think we’ll be able to take care of him,” the former Australia and Japan coach added.
As for the difficulty of preparing to play a France side who were so effective in the first half against Wales yet fell away so dramatically in the second, Jones said: “All we worry about is ourselves, getting ourselves organised.
“We’ve had a good look at France and what they can bring to the table but we just have to be organised in defence and have that relentless attitude to get after them.”
Players to watch:
For England: There are two changes to the starting XV that played against Ireland. Chris Ashton has been recalled in place of Jack Nowell on the right wing, Courtney Lawes is in for the injured lock Maro Itoje. Until the start of this season, Sale wing Ashton was playing for French side Toulon, but it was the 31-year-old’s record of 20 tries in 43 Tests for England that was a key factor in his promotion to the starting side. “We’ve just got a gut feeling he’ll be right for the start of the game and Jack will be right for the end of the game,” explained coach Eddie Jones.
For France: With six changes to the starting line-up there is plenty to look out for. Top of the list is the inclusion of Mathieu Bastareaud, who has been reunited with Geoffrey Doumayrou in the midfield – the same pairing who helped beat England in Paris last year. The other change in the backs comes on the wing, where Gaël Fickou, who came on as a replacement against Wales last week, is installed on the wing, with Yoann Huget moving to fullback. In the forwards, prop Demba Bamba comes into the front row in place of the injured Uini Atonio, while lock Felix Lambey gets the nod ahead of Paul Willemse. In the back row, Yacouba Camara is at No.6 in place of Wenceslas Lauret.
Head to head: No doubt the midfield battle will be brutal – Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi (England) against Mathieu Bastareaud ad Geoffrey Doumayrou (France). If it is skill you are looking for, then cast your eyes to the flyhalf battler between Owen Farrell (England) against Camille Lopez (France).
2018: France won 22-16, Paris
2017: England won 19-16, London
2016: England won 31-21, Paris
2015: France won 25-20, Paris
2015: England won 19-14, London
2015: England won 55-35, London
2014: France won 26-24, Paris
2013: England won 23-13, London
2012: England won 24-22, Paris
2011: France won 19-12, Auckland (World Cup quarterfinal)
Prediction: You never write France off … ever. However, England is favourites and we suggest they will win by 10 points.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 George Kruis, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Jack Nowell.
France: 15 Yoann Huget, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Gaël Fickou, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Arthur Iturria, 6 Yacouba Camara, 5 Félix Lambey, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Gregory Alldritt, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Romain Ntamack, 23 Thomas Ramos.
Date: Sunday, February 10
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 15.00 (16.00 French time; 15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Rather cloudy, with a bit of rain. High of 6°C and a low of 3°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)