England v France - Teams and Predictions
SIX NATIONS, ROUND FOUR: Six Nations title-contenders France are ready for an “immense challenge” when they go in search of their first win over England at Twickenham in 16 years on Saturday.
The Championship as a whole has been on a fortnight’s rest, but France have had an even longer absence after their match against Scotland was postponed because of a coronavirus outbreak in the French camp.
But an internal French Rugby Federation inquiry didn’t find anyone to blame with head coach Fabien Galthie, under suspicion after he left the team hotel to watch his son play a game, insisting the squad had done its best to follow health protocols.
“France is very exposed, zero risk does not exist,” said Galthie.
Les Bleus have enjoyed a resurgence since Galthie took over as coach following the 2019 World Cup and beat reigning Six Nations champions England in Paris last year before a loss to Scotland cost them the chance of a Grand Slam.
Impressive wins over Italy and Ireland have left France again eyeing a clean sweep.
But to maintain those hopes they must beat England at Twickenham – something no France team has done since 2005 when scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili kicked all of Les Bleus’ points in an 18-17 win.
“We have objectives, one is to beat England on Saturday,” said France team manager Raphael Ibanez.
“A team who haven’t given an inch against France since 2005, that’s what’s at stake. An immense challenge awaits us.”
Yet it is a challenge France almost overcame at Twickenham in December when a side missing several first-choice players because of club agreements pushed England all the way before losing the Nations Cup final in sudden death extra-time.
Matthieu Jalibert will start at flyhalf for France on Saturday, with Romain Ntamack having only recently returned from a double fracture of the jaw.
Antoine Dupont, regarded as the world’s best scrumhalf by England counterpart Ben Youngs, continues to direct the attack behind a forceful pack led by France captain Charles Ollivon, with the defence bolstered by the arrival from Wales of English specialist coach Shaun Edwards.
England coach Eddie Jones has given a first Test start to fullback Max Malins and recalled hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie following a 24-40 loss to Wales last time out that all but ended hopes of a successful title defence following an opening loss to Scotland.
Jones expects Malins in particular to have a busy match against France’s “long-kicking, high-kicking game”.
“They don’t play anything in their half, but once they get in your half, they try to create situations where they can play like they are in the park,” said Jones.
“You go to France and you see kids playing touch, like you see them in New Zealand, they like to play off the speed of the ball and they like to play off momentum and when Dupont gets momentum around the ruck he is very dangerous.
“They have been able to create a modern version of their olden days when they played with width and a certain amount of freedom.
“It’s a really good credit to their coaching staff and players about how disciplined they are.”
Discipline has been a major problem for England in recent matches, with captain Owen Farrell exasperated by a couple of Wales tries that French referee Pascal Gauzere later admitted he had been wrong to award.
Yet England still battled back to 24-24.
But the Welsh then scored 16 unanswered points, with England giving away several penalties in the closing stages.
English referees Matt Carley and Wayne Barnes have been working with the squad in the hope Jones’ men stay on the right side of Andrew Brace in another behind closed doors contest on Saturday.
“They will help the process, but it comes down to the individual responsibility of the players to make the right decision at the right time,” said veteran Australian coach Jones.
“We’ve encouraged that practice to be good in training and we’d like to see that flow into the game.”
Players to watch:
For England: Fullback Max Malins gets his first Test start and he will be kept busy by Matthieu Jalibert and Antoine Dupont. No.8 Billy Vunipola is a big ball carrier and will be a hard man stop once he gets momentum. Lock Maro Itoje is one of the best in the business in his position and he could be a key figure once again for England as they try to derail France’s Six Nations campaign.
For France: Centre Virimi Vakatawa will make his first appearance in this year’s tournament and his big frame will give England’s defenders plenty of work in the midfield. Scrumhalf Antoine Dupont is regarded as the best in his position right now and England will have to keep an eye on him around the rucks. Romain Taofifenua comes in for Bernard le Roux at No.4 lock and he will bring some muscle to the physical exchanges.
Head to head
France’s Matthieu Jalibert has been outstanding in the No.10 jersey and his battle with George Ford and Owen Farrell could decide the match. France could even things out by bring on Romain Ntamack in the second half. Farrell and his midfield partner Henry Slade will also have to contend with the big Virimi Vakatawa running at them during the 80 minutes. Another key battle will be in the scrums, with both packs having plenty of power in that department.
@rugby365com: France by three points.
England: 15 Max Malins, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Ollie Lawrence, 23 Elliot Daly.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Teddy Thomas, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Dylan Cretin, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Romain Taofifenua, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julian Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Cyril Cazeau, 20 Cameron Woki, 21 Anthony Jelonch, 22 Baptiste Serin, 23 Romain Ntamack.
Date: Saturday, March 13
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT; 17.45 France time)
Expected weather: Rain is expected with strong winds and a temperature of around 5°C.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Mike Adamson (Scotland), Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)
AFP & @rugby365com