There is much anticipation about the 2021 edition of Le Crunch – here's the lowdown

Six Nations England v France Preview

This game has all the right ingredients for some slightly wrong reasons.

In the undersell of 2021, England defence coach John Mitchell said England “need to sort out our discipline” after stinging losses to Scotland and Wales in the first three rounds of the Six Nations. Through those matches, England have conceded an average of 13.6 penalties per game.

As Mitchell continued: “It’s important that we’re a lot cleverer and smarter in certain situations.”

Well, there are pop quizzes and then there is the Test of facing a France side who have done so much to stay on the straight and narrow in recent years, only to drive a car full of explosives into a clown shoe factory in the last fortnight. The damage was not irreprable – particularly as no senior management look likely to face anything resembling wrath after a Covid shocker tore through the French set-up – and the team who looked for all the world like the Grand Slam favourites mere weeks ago can still get there, but only if they can win all their remaining fixtures, including a rearranged match with Scotland (on an as yet unconfirmed date in March).

Related: Fabien Galthie cleared of breaking Covid protocols by FFR

What is undeniable on both sides is the quality of athlete available. Win this one and England have a monumental reset. For France, it will be proof that this group is the real deal and talk of pandemic howlers disappears like whispers in the wind. A loss for either looks horrid… Unless you are Wales, of course.

Six Nations England v France Preview

Max Malins starts at full-back for England (Getty Images)

No matter what has gone before – or in fact perhaps because of it – this match will have the world game’s eyes on it. And no one will blame you for getting caught up in it, either. If he storms the game, we will all join in the coronation of Antoine Dupont as the world’s best right now. Redemption will be the theme should Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje do the business.

France have not won at Twickenham since 2005 and while le Crunch has so often been Rock v Rock in bygone years, there are some names on these team-sheets who can slice through.

What’s the big team news?

For the hosts, the name at full-back has generated optimism. Max Malins earns his first Test start for Eddie Jones, replacing Elliot Daly, and he is a player who throws every fibre of desire at it when he gets on the ball. The surprisingly-prolific Luke Cowan-Dickie starts ahead of Jamie George at hooker and Charlie Ewels is also in ahead Jonny Hill at lock.

For France, there are four changes. Explosive centre Virimi Vakatawa has bounced back from injury to start, while Teddy Thomas replaces the injured Gabin Villière on the wing. Will he look secure under the high ball?

In the pack, Romain Taofifenua comes in for the missing Bernard le Roux and Dylan Cretin start in the back row.

Six Nations England v France Preview

Virimi Vakatawa is fit again (Getty Images)

What have the coaches said?

England boss Eddie Jones said: “We are of course disappointed that we can’t defend the championship, but that makes this an even more important game. We want to show what we are capable of.”

France team manager Raphael Ibanez said: “The third match of the tournament is always a seesaw. It’s an even more special week because we have to make sure that the physical levels of our players are as consistent as possible. Some have been fortunate enough to play with their club, others have had to wait. Our goal with the group is to ensure that every player can be at an optimal level of form. Thanks to the matches already played, we now have undeniable experience of the standards necessary to come forward with the most energy possible.”


France rugby enforcer

With Bernard le Roux out, Paul Willemse will have to set a marker (Getty Images)

What are the odds?

England are  favourites, with odds of 5-6 on Bet365. France are rated at 22-1 and a draw comes in at 11-10. However, France also come in at 5-4 to win the championship.

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Any interesting statistics?

  • France have made more offloads (21) than any other side in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations, even after the Scotland game was called off.
  • According to Opta, Max Malins is sixth for assists per 80 minutes (0.6) and fifth for metres (76) in the Premiership since the start of 2019.
  • Paul Willemse has made 34/34 tackles in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations – the most of any France player. No one with a 100% tackle success rate has made more tackles in this championship.
  • According to Stuart Farmer, only Dan Carter surpassed the 1000-point mark quicker than Owen Farrell, who reached the number for England against Wales.

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

England vs france, Saturday 13 March, Twickenham.

The match kicks off at 4.45pm and will be shown on ITV in the UK and in Ireland on Virgin Media One. You can listen to coverage on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Andrew Brace (Ireland) is the match referee, with Mike Adamson (Scotland) and Craig Evans (Wales) the assistants, and Joy Neville (Ireland) the Television Match Official.

Six Nations England v France Preview

Andrew Brace was in charge for England-Scotland (Getty Images)

What are the line-ups?

England: Max Malins; Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.

Replacements: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Ollie Lawrence, Elliot Daly.

France: Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Damian Penaud; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Romain Taofifenua, Paul Willemse, Dylan Cretin, Charles Ollivon (captain), Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Dorian Aldegheri, Cyril Cazeaux, Cameron Woki, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Romain Ntamack.

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