There is much anticipation about the 2020 edition of Le Crunch – here's what you need to know
Six Nations France v England Preview
Le Crunch. Yet all the talk in the build-up, with words like “ferocious” and “brutal” being thrown around, could make you think the coaches wanted to rebrand this Six Nations fixture Le Punch.
Let’s hope it’s the rugby, not off-the-ball clashes, that dominates conversation at the final whistle on Sunday afternoon. After all, both Eddie Jones and Fabien Galthie have picked players with the ability to play exciting rugby at Stade de France.
Jones’s England are the favourites to win the 2020 championship and a win in Paris in the first round certainly helped Ireland and Wales in the past two years, both those teams going on to win Grand Slams.
Twelve of the players who started the World Cup final are also in the XV to face France, although Elliot Daly and Courtney Lawes have moved positions, while the French have changed half their team since losing to Wales in the quarter-finals.
New France coach Galthie has made it clear there is a focus on the 2023 World Cup on home soil, hence the number of new faces in a young squad, and only seven of the starters from Oita remain for this fixture. However, he has also expressed a desire for more immediate success in this Six Nations.
So will it be Jones or Galthie delivering soundbites after a victory this weekend? Here’s what you need to know…
What’s the big team news?
George Furbank will make his England debut at full-back in Paris, lining up in the back three alongside Elliot Daly and Jonny May after Anthony Watson was ruled out with a calf injury. The French will no doubt be looking to test his aerial skills so expect plenty of high balls heading in his direction.
The rest of the back-line is the same as in the World Cup final, but there are plenty of changes in the pack.
No 8 Billy Vunipola had already been ruled out of the championship with a broken arm and his brother Mako won’t play in this match either – a selection decision rather than injury enforced – with Joe Marler starting at loosehead and Ellis Genge on the bench.
Tom Curry, who formed such an effective combination with Sam Underhill on the flanks in Japan, has the responsibility of filling the No 8 shirt, with Courtney Lawes joining the young duo in the back row.
Charlie Ewels – not part of the World Cup squad – will partner Maro Itoje in the second row, while George Kruis starts on the bench alongside potential debutant Will Stuart.
Galthie may have 20 uncapped players in his squad but only two are in his starting XV to face England – full-back Anthony Bouthier and tighthead Mohamed Haouas. Cameron Woki and Boris Palu could also make their Test debuts off the bench.
It is Romain Ntamack who has been given the nod at ten and he will line up alongside his Toulouse team-mate Antoine Dupont at half-back – and if they can get decent ball to the rest of the back-line England will be busy defensively!
Virimi Vakatawa has been in superb form for Racing 92 and his power is complemented by the more subtle running skills of Gael Fickou.
However, France have been hit with a late injury blow. Wing Damian Penaud – named in the original starting line-up – has been ruled out with a calf injury picked up in training and has been replaced by Vincent Rattez.
What have the coaches said?
France coach Fabien Galthie: “Expect a ferocious pack. Expect a ferocious battle to win the ball. Expect my players to stand their ground with ferocious tackles and collisions. They will play with passion and go beyond their limits.”
England head coach Eddie Jones: “France can expect absolute brutality from England. We are going to go out there to make sure they understand what Test rugby is. It is about being brutal, it is about being physical and it is about dominating the set-piece.”
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Any interesting statistics?
- France were the only team in last year’s Six Nations not to kick at all in the opposition 22.
- England scored 119 points in the first half of their 2019 championship matches – more than any other team managed in the entirety of their five games combined.
- England’s 44-8 victory last year at Twickenham was their biggest margin of victory over France in championship history.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
France v England, Sunday 2 February, Stade de France
The final match of round one kicks off at 3pm UK & Ireland time and is live on ITV (UK) and Virgin Media (Ireland). There will also be live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and RTE in Ireland.
Welshman Nigel Owens is the referee, with touchline assistance from Ireland’s Andrew Brace and New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill. The TMO is another Irishman, Brian MacNeice.
What are the line-ups?
FRANCE: Anthony Bouthier; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Vincent Rattez; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon (captain), Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Jefferson Poirot, Demba Bamba, Boris Palu, Cameron Woki, Baptiste Serin, Matthieu Jalibert, tbc.
ENGLAND: George Furbank; Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (captain), Elliot Daly; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels, Courtney Lawes, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry.
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, George Kruis, Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, Ollie Devoto, Jonathan Joseph.
The March 2020 issue of Rugby World magazine – a Six Nations special – is on sale now.
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