Preview: France v England
SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: Eddie Jones has promised “absolute brutality” from England against France in Paris on Sunday.
Jones handed in-form Northampton fullback George Furbank his debut in their Six Nations season-opener.
Owen Farrell was named at inside centre and will captain the side with 675 caps in the starting XV.
“We have really worried about ourselves, getting ourselves right,” Jones said in the French capital on Friday.
“We have picked a strong forward pack which is part of the England way and an exciting backline with young George Furbank playing his first Test at fullback.”
Manu Tuilagi partners Farrell in midfield, with George Ford (No.10) and Ben Youngs (No.9) linking up at halfback.
Long-range goalkicker Elliot Daly and Jonny May are on the wings, with Anthony Watson a late unavailability due to injury.
Tom Curry, one of the stand-outs of the World Cup who played openside in all of England’s Six Nations matches last season, is selected at No.8.
The 21-year-old will pack down alongside flankers Sam Underhill, chosen at openside, and Courtney Lawes.
Charlie Ewels will partner Maro Itoje in the second row with Jamie George, Joe Marler and Kyle Sinckler making up England’s front row.
“It has been a massively exciting week for us, said Jones, who led England to the final of last season’s Rugby World Cup in Japan, where they lost to South Africa 32-12 in the final.
“It is the start of the Guinness Six Nations, the best rugby tournament in the world. We have had a great preparation in Portugal with a quality training week this week.
“France can expect absolute brutality from England, we are going to go out there to make sure they understand what Test rugby is.
“It is about being brutal, it is about being physical and it is about dominating the set-piece.”
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Prop Will Stuart is included among the replacements and is the second uncapped player in the matchday 23.
Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, George Kruis and Lewis Ludlam complement the forward contingent on the bench, with Willi Heinz, Ollie Devoto and Jonathan Joseph offering backline options.
Kruis is one of five players in the 23 from disgraced English and European champions Saracens.
The club has been mired in a salary cap scandal that caused them to accept demotion the second-tier Championship next season.
France coach Fabien Galthie named 12 survivors from France’s World Cup quarterfinal defeat by Wales in his match-day 23, also handing debuts to tight-head prop Mohamed Haouas and full-back Anthony Bouthier.
Players to watch
For France: Mohamed Haouas (at tighthead prop) and Anthony Bouthier (fullback) are the two uncapped players in the starting XV, Racing 92’s Boris Palu and Bordeaux-Bègles’ Cameron Woki could make their Test bows if they come off the bench. Charles Ollivon leads a young side – in a back row alongside Grégory Alldritt, with the pair joined by François Cros to form the same trio that impressed against Scotland in a warm-up match in Nice.
For England: George Furbank will make his international debut at fullback, while Charlie Ewels comes into the second row – to win his 13th England cap. There is 675 caps worth of experience in the starting XV – with Ben Youngs set to play his 96th Test at scrumhalf and Courtney Lawes winning his 82nd cap as part of the back row.
Head to head:
Anthony Bouthier (France) against George Furbank (England) could make for an intriguing contest in what will be a good indication of how well both teams have moved on from their World Cup disappointments. Virimi Vakatawa (France) versus Manu Tuilagi (England) will bring some colossal midfield collisions. For a bit more guile you cab look at the No.8 battle between Gregory Alldritt (France) and Tom Curry (England).
Prediction: What mental scars are left over from England’s humiliating loss to South Africa in the World Cup Final? On paper England appear to have too much experience and muscle. France seems to have reverted to a more skill-based game and England will look to bully them. England to win by 12 points.
France: 15 Anthony Bouthier, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Damian Penaud, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Francois Cros, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Boris Palu, 20 Cameron Woki, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Mathieu Jalibert, 23 Vincent Rattez.
England: 15 George Furbank, 14 Jonny May, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 George Kruis, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Ollie Devoto, 23 Jonathan Joseph.
Date: Sunday, February 2
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 16.00 (15.00 UK time; 15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: A little morning rain; otherwise, cloudy and mild. High of 15°C and a low of 8°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)