Who will lift the trophy in the final at Twickenham?
Autumn Nations Cup England v France Preview
England’s international season started against France in February, when les Bleus ended the visitors’ hopes of a Six Nations Grand Slam at the first hurdle in Paris, and it will finish against the same opposition with the Autumn Nations Cup trophy on the line.
At the start of the year, Eddie Jones was warning France to expect “absolute brutality” only to see his team beaten 24-17. This time the England coach has been far more circumspect, pointing the finger at referees and lawmakers when discussing the kick-heavy rugby that has been a theme of this tournament rather than making bold predictions.
While Jones may not be presenting his approach in such evocative terms ahead of Sunday’s final at Twickenham, you suspect overpowering France will be top of England’s agenda as they look to close out the year by adding the Autumn Nations Cup to their Six Nations triumph.
After all, England have the best success rates at the scrum (96%), lineout (98%) and tackle (92%) of any team in the Autumn Nations Cup – and they are facing a completely different French XV to the one they met in Paris ten months ago.
To avoid a legal dispute with the Top 14 clubs, the French federation agreed to pick players for only three Tests in this autumn campaign. As the coaching team opted for continuity with their first-choice stars earlier in the autumn, they are without the entire starting XV that took the field against England earlier in the year, including scrum-half Antoine Dupoint, centre Virimi Vakatawa and captain Charles Ollivon.
Instead, France’s squad of 31 players for this weekend contains just 121 caps – and more than half of those belong to just two players, Brice Dulin and Uini Atonio. It’s a stark contrast to England’s squad, where Ben Youngs alone has 103 caps for his country.
The lack of cohesion in France’s ‘new’ squad was evident against Italy, albeit that they ended up winning comfortably, and England will no doubt want to exploit the team’s inexperience. In fact, they are widely expected to overwhelm the visitors, with England odds-on favourites with the bookies.
It may not be a ‘final’ in the sense of having the two strongest teams on the field given France’s selection but it is still an opportunity to win a trophy – and England will have the added motivation of having 2,000 fans in the stands.
What’s the big team news?
Eddie Jones has made two changes to the starting team that beat Wales last weekend. Anthony Watson coming onto the wing in place of his injured Bath team-mate Jonathan Joseph while Mako Vunipola was ruled out on Saturday with a calf injury so Ellis Genge starts and Joe Marler comes onto the bench.
Jones has also reverted to a more traditional five-three split between backs and forwards on the bench, so there is no room for Jack Willis.
France have made six changes for the final, with scrum-half Baptiste Couilloud chosen as captain as he makes his first Test start. Centre Yoram Moefana, prop Hassane Kolignar and hooker Pierre Bourgarit are also part of the starting XV for the first time while Selevasio Tolofua makes his France debut at No 8.
What have the coaches said?
England coach Eddie Jones: “It’s a good test for us to keep our focus because all the narrative around the game is that we are expected to win. Maybe in the World Cup final we didn’t handle that too well. So it is an opportunity for us to show that we have grown and learnt from the World Cup final.”
France coach Fabien Galthie (on selection): “At international level, it is necessary to switch completely. You cannot ask the players to come in, come out, come in, come out. It is too difficult for a player.”
Any interesting statistics?
- England haven’t lost to France at Twickenham since 2007. That is also the last time France registered back-to-back wins over England.
- France, who beat Scotland at BT Murrayfield in the pool stages, are looking for back-to-back away wins for the first time since 2010.
- Billy Vunipola made more carries (36) than any other player in the tournament’s group stages.
- Jonny May has scored seven tries in seven games against France – and if he scores in this match he’ll move clear of Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen (all currently on 31 tries) to become England’s standalone second highest try-scorer behind Rory Underwood (49).
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
England v France, Sunday 6 December, Twickenham
The match kicks off at 2pm and will be broadcast live on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Premier Sports in Ireland. There will also be live commentary on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra from 1.45pm.
If you’re outside the UK and Ireland, check out our guide to Autumn Nations Cup coverage around the world.
Andrew Brace will take charge of this match with fellow Irishman Frank Murphy and Craig Evans (Wales) as assistant referees. Another Welshman, Ben Whitehouse, is the Television Match Official.
What are the line-ups?
England: Elliot Daly; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Joe Launchbury, Tom Curry, Sam Underhill, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Max Malins, Joe Marchant.
The France team is still to be announced but this is the squad Galthie is picking from.
France: Brice Dulin; Alivereti Raka, Yoram Moefana, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere; Matthieu Jalibert, Baptiste Couilloud (captain); Hassane Kolignar, Pierre Bourgarit, Dorian Aldegheri, Killian Geraci, Baptiste Pesenti, Cameron Woki, Anthony Jelonch, Selevasio Tolofua.
Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Rodrigue Neti, Uini Atonio, Guillaume Ducat, Sekou Macalou, Sebastien Bezy, Louis Carbonel, Pierre-Louis Barassi.
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