By Sarah Mockford
Nicolas Mas v Joe Marler
It’s an experience versus youth classic, with Mas having four times as many caps as Marler as well as ten years longer to master front-row technique. These two went head-to-head at Twickenham in the same fixture last year, and it was the French who came out on top with 83% scrum success compared to England’s 71%.
Marler, 23, has upped his game since then, with his scrummaging continually improving, and Mas has not been at his destructive best this season. Still, with 66 caps, he knows all the tricks and will be doing his upmost to get his opponent to show his temperamental side. If Marler can keep his cool and take on board the advice coach Graham Rowntree is sure to have imparted, England should gain parity up front – and the Harlequins prop certainly offers more in the loose than Mas.
Jules Plisson v Owen Farrell
These two have history at U20 level but while Plisson will be winning his first cap at the Stade de France on Saturday, Farrell will be winning his 20th. Plisson’s selection is a result of his form for Stade Francais this season, form that has kept experienced Springbok Morne Steyn on the bench, and France coach Philippe Saint-André is banking on the 22-year-old being able to repeat those feats on the biggest stage.
Farrell long ago proved he was capable of delivering when it mattered most, his nerveless kicking displays key to England’s recent victories, but there is added responsibility this weekend with three Test novices – Jonny May, Jack Nowell and Luther Burrell – in the back-line.
Plisson has a dash more flair to his game than Farrell – and he’s been inspired by Jonny Wilkinson to hone his drop-goal expertise. If Plisson is able to rise to the occasion rather than be overawed by it, perhaps he’ll inflict the same pain on England as Jonny did so often for England.
France v The home crowd
It has become something of a cliché, but French crowds are notoriously fickle. If their team start well and build a lead, they’ll generate an atmosphere to aid the pursuit of victory. Start badly and they either jeer their own players or allow the stadium to go quiet. This is particularly true of the Stade de France, where so many corporate spectators are present.
England will be keen to knock France off their stride early, silence the home fans and allow their own travelling supporters to find their voice. If they are able to do that, they will be one step closer to securing a first win of the 2014 Six Nations.
France v England, Stade de France, Sat 1 Feb, 5pm, Live on BBC1