RBS Six Nations: England v France
Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 26 February Kick-off: 1700 GMT
Coverage: Watch on BBC One, BBC HD channel, Red Button and BBC Sport website (also on BBC America); post-match forum 1900-1930; listen on BBC Radio 5 live & online; text commentary on BBC Sport website and mobiles
This year’s Grand Slam could be decided at Twickenham when the only two unbeaten teams in the Championship go head-t0-head in the Championship, England being the bookies favourites, which they always when they are at home, almost ignoring who they are playing.
Manager Martin Johnson was in typically pragmatic mood this week, even correcting the media who suggested this was a Grand Slam decider. “That’s factually inaccurate for a start,” he chided the media!
A year ago England first showcased their new expansive style but it wasn’t good enough because they lost the battle in the scrum and if they lose again at Twickenham, France will win their ninth successive match in the RBS 6 Nations.
In Paris the France front row out-thought an inexperienced England team by refusing to scrum straight on, the responsibility of both tighthead Dan Cole and hooker Dylan Hartley. At Twickenham Cole, Hartley and Andrew Sheridan need to take responsibility for keeping the scrum straight. The battle within a battle could decide the game. Sheridan’s return is crucial.
“Andrew is a big powerful man. He is against a smart tighthead in Dan Cole,” said Johnson. “They will want to get an advantage there rugby-wise and that will also be a psychological advantage. Andrew has been good with us this year. He is strong and powerful and he stands up in the tougest physical challenges in world rugby. He is developing aroudn the field and hopefylly we will see him carry on Satrurday. First things first he has a job to do in that front row.”
Johnson was also asked why he thought things were seemingly coming together for England in this Six Nations? “How do things come together? Over the last 18 months we have had a group of young players who have forced their way into the team, they have had their opportunities to play and taken them,” Johnson added. “The form and consistency has improved and we are starting to get to a place where the foundations are in place.”
Reflecting on the defeat a year ago Johnson added: “We have got to be a bit better. We can’t let them have their way and then it went into the refs hands. A lot of times at scrums you can argue either way who is right and who is wrong but he stuck his arm up Without being too technical and naming names we have got to stop them doing what they have got to do. We are better equipped at doing that now.”
Last year, we took Dan off and put Dave on but it wasnt really down to Dan at that point. It is pretty clear when you look at what was happening. We have to be very strong on our loosehead side. Mas likes to get into that gap and put a lot of pressure through there. We have to stop him. know it’s coming. We have got to be up to it.
England: Ben Foden (Northampton); Chris Ashton (Northampton), Mike Tindall (Gloucester, captain), Shontanye Hape (Bath), Mark Cueto (Sale); Toby Flood (Leicester), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Andrew Sheridan (Sale), Dylan Hartley (Northampton), Dan Cole (Leicester), Louis Deacon (Leicester), Tom Palmer (Stade Francais), Tom Wood (Northampton), James Haskell (Stade Francais), Nick Easter (Harlequins).
Replacements: Steve Thompson (Leeds), Alex Corbisiero (London Irish), Simon Shaw (Wasps), Hendre Fourie (Leeds), Danny Care (Harlequins), Jonny Wilkinson (Toulon), Matt Banahan (Bath).
France: Clement Poitrenaud (Toulouse); Yoann Huget (Bayonne), Aurelien Rougerie (Clermont), Yannick Jauzion (Toulouse), Vincent Clerc (Toulouse); Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), Dimitri Yachvili (Biarritz); Thomas Domingo (Clermont), William Servat (Toulouse), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Julien Pierre (Clermont), Lionel Nallet (Racing-Metro), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, captain), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz), Sebastien Chabal (Racing-Metro).
Replacements: Guilhem Guirado (Perpignan), Sylvain Marconnet (Biarritz), Jerome Thion (Biarritz), Julien Bonnaire (Clermont), Morgan Parra (Clermont), Damien Traille (Biarritz), Alexis Palisson (Brive)