Can les Bleus seal the Slam on Saturday night? Or will Eddie Jones’s selection calls prove a masterstroke?


Six Nations France v England Preview

Le Crunch. That’s the moniker given to this Six Nations fixture and it seems even more fitting this year.

It’s crunch time for France because a Grand Slam is on the line. It’s been more than a decade since they lifted the Six Nations trophy and getting their hands on it at the Stade de France is viewed as an important step on the road to next year’s Rugby World Cup.

It’s crunch time for England, too, or perhaps more specifically for Eddie Jones. For all the head coach’s talk of ‘new England’ during this championship, of a revolutionary attacking style, we haven’t seen it put into action. In fact, their attack has looked more shapeless than shapeshifting (the BBC’s Rugby Union Daily podcast has a brilliant episode with Danny Cipriani discussing this very thing).

And for this Super Saturday finale, he has rolled the dice again in selection. George Furbank comes in at No 15 with some calling the selection confused and desperate, others predicting that it could be the way to counter the French kicking game. By 10pm on Saturday, we should know whether that decision is a masterstroke or a misadventure.

Let’s just hope we don’t witness the aimless kick-fest that occurred at Twickenham during the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup final between these two sides. France may put boot to ball a lot but there is a method to it and once space does open up they turn on the pace and power to break down – or through – opponents.

They got a scare in Cardiff in the last round but their desire and resoluteness in defence saw them through, just as England’s rearguard effort was the talking point in their defeat by Ireland. When looking at what to expect from England’s defence against France, aggression is the buzzword from the visitors’ camp.

France will likely be much better for that tight Wales match going into this finale. Now they will be aiming to give a raucous Parisian crowd even more to cheer on Saturday night with a Grand Slam-sealing performance.

Here’s all you need to know with our Six Nations France v England preview.

What’s the big team news?

Consistency has been the name of the game when it comes to France selection during this Six Nations and so it proves again for the final fixture.

They have made only one change to the team that squeaked past Wales last Friday night – wing Damian Penaud returning to the starting XV having missed the trip to Cardiff following a positive Covid test.

In fact, there is only one difference to the team that started the championship against Italy, Francois Cros replacing Dylan Cretin in the back row for the subsequent matches.

It’s not quite the same story for England, with a third of the team changed – some injury-enforced, others selection decisions.

The biggest call is surely George Furbank starting at full-back, at the same venue and against the same opposition as he made his Test debut in 2020. He probably doesn’t have the best memories of that defeat and it seems a somewhat strange decision to shift Freddie Steward, so reliable under the high ball, to the wing and bring in Furbank for his first involvement of the championship.

Yes, Steward will be called upon in that department in the wide channels, especially against a team that kicks as much as France, but he has proven so adept at covering the backfield in the No 15 shirt it seems odd to move him.

Six Nations France v England Preview

George Furbank breaks against Tonga last November (Getty Images)

Jones is backing Furbank’s ability to kick long to counteract France’s game plan, saying: “There is no better full-back in England at returning those long kicks and his ability to kick longer than (Melvyn) Jaminet.”

The other change in the backs sees Ben Youngs start at scrum-half with the ‘zip’ of Harry Randall deemed to be more suited to come off the bench this time.

Up front, Will Stuart starts ahead of Kyle Sinckler at loosehead, Nick Isiekwe replaces the banned Charlie Ewels in the second row and Sam Underhill comes in openside for the injured Tom Curry.

England will be hoping Underhill can keep pace with such a physical France side in his first Test since November after suffering several injury issues at the start of this year. It’s particularly important given that the hosts have opted for a six-two split between forwards and backs on the bench while England have stuck to a more traditional five-three.

What have the coaches said?

France head coach Fabien Galthie: “In terms of experience we are approaching our 25th Test together and it is our third Six Nations and we have lived through a lot together.

“These players now have a collective experience together, they have grown a lot in two years. We have learnt from our defeats, our runners-up places in the tournament have taught us an enormous amount.”

England head coach Eddie Jones: “We get to play in a game where France have had a great Six Nations and we want to finish the Six Nations strongly, so it’s about creating our own party rather than spoiling France’s.

“They’re going to be a massively aroused team. They come through the centre with their big forwards and once they tie you up a little bit, they spread the ball to the backs. But they don’t do that without using their long kicking game to get them up the field. They’re a very disciplined team in attack and defence.”

Any interesting statistics?

  • Following the first four rounds of this year’s Six Nations, France had kicked the most – they’re the only side to have kicked for more than 4,000 metres – while only Ireland have kicked for fewer metres than England (2,837). In contrast, only Italy have carried for fewer metres than France (2,450) or fewer times (398).
  • France have scored twice as many tries as England in the first four rounds of the 2022 championship – 14 to seven.
  • France No 8 Gregory Alldritt is the top carrier in the Six Nations to date, with 52. England’s best carrier is full-back Freddie Steward (39), who is also their top metre maker with 425.
  • England have the two best turnover winners in the tournament, with Alex Dombrandt and Maro Itoje both on six.
  • France dominate the offloads chart with three players in the top four – Antoine Dupont (6), Cyril Baille (6) and Damian Penaud (5). Only Italy’s Monty Ioane (7) has offloaded more.

What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

France v England, Saturday 19 March, Stade de France

The match kicks off at 8pm UK & Ireland time (9pm in Paris) and will be shown on ITV in the UK and in Ireland on RTE2. You can listen to coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live too.

Jaco Peyper (South Africa) is the match referee, with Mike Adamson (Scotland) and Frank Murphy (Ireland) the assistants. The Television Match Official is Marius Jonker.

What are the line-ups?

France: Melvyn Jaminet; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villiere; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (captain); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Uini Atonio, Cameron Woki, Paul Willimse, Francois Cros, Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Mohamed Haouas, Romain Taofifenua, Thibaud Flament, Dylan Cretin, Maxime Lucu, Thomas Ramos.

England: George Furbank; Freddie Steward, Joe Marchant, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell; Marcus Smith, Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge, Jamie George, Will Stuart, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Courtney Lawes (captain), Sam Underhill, Sam Simmonds.

Replacements: Nic Dolly, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Ollie Chessum, Alex Dombrandt, Harry Randall, George Ford, Elliot Daly.

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