England were majestic in round one, France a crumbling mess, so there's a lopsided look to Le Crunch. Here's the team news, stats and TV details for the Twickenham duel
Six Nations England v France Preview
The hunters are now the hunted. England’s turbo-charged win in Dublin has transformed the landscape, not only making them new favourites for the 2019 Guinness Six Nations title but announcing themselves as genuine contenders for the World Cup later this year.
Andy Robinson, England’s coach when they last lost a Six Nations match to France at Twickenham, called last weekend’s victory England’s “most complete performance for ten years… anger, ferocity, for me that’s the template for how they should play”.
Fifty-odd dominant collisions, a fifth of them by loosehead Mako Vunipola, lay at the heart of the 32-20 success, but England’s kicking game – giving them 64% territory despite long spells without the ball – was almost as impressive.
If the desire to avenge last year’s defeat by Ireland fuelled that ferocity, then watch out France, because they also turned over Eddie Jones’s men in 2018.
Les Bleus come to London on the back of a second-half collapse against Wales, ludicrous mistakes by Yoann Huget and Sebastien Vahaamahina leading to a ninth defeat in 12 Tests under Jacques Brunel.
At around 150st, France had the championship’s heaviest pack in round one but a week on they have lightened up a little by dropping Uini Atonio and Paul Willemse, so England now outweigh them. While France’s set-piece should stand up to scrutiny this weekend, it’s unlikely they will have the stomach for a high-tempo game. They repeatedly tried to slow the game down against Wales, earning a mild rebuke from referee Wayne Barnes.
Ben Kay, the former England lock working for BT Sport, believes a disciplined England performance, in terms of team cohesion as much as the penalty count, should give France nowhere to go.
“I think the only way France can win is if England give them the opportunities; give them kicks to the corner so they can use that big maul, give them shots at goal so it builds confidence,” he says. “If England take just 5% (intensity) off, they’re still going to be effective. They’re not going to be stressed defensively as they were against Ireland.
“France are an ebb-and-flow side. They’re not 100mph all the way through, it’s slow, slow, but then they’ll get an opportunity and cut you to pieces with individual brilliance. England mustn’t give France any easy broken-field opportunities that they can exploit.”
One swallow doesn’t make a summer. England need to back up their Dublin heroics and, as a side issue, it would be nice to see them make more use of their replacements. Luke Cowan-Dickie and Ellis Genge got only a token three minutes at the Aviva Stadium while Dan Robson didn’t get on at all – highly unusual for the scrum-half position.
For France, it’s an opportunity to make a statement ahead of the teams’ next meeting in Yokohama at Japan 2019. It’s a brave or foolhardy man who argues for an away victory. For the record, the QBE Business Insurance Predictor forecasts a 30-16 England win and a 58% likelihood that they will claim the title.
What’s the big team news?
Maro Itoje’s knee-ligament injury against Ireland means a start for back-five forward Courtney Lawes, who edges out the other major contender Joe Launchbury. It will be Lawes’s first Six Nations start at second-row since March 2017.
The only other change from last weekend’s XV sees Chris Ashton start at the expense of Jack Nowell, who had a strong match in Dublin and can count himself unlucky.
Ben Moon and Dan Cole – whose last start was in the Stade de France 11 months ago – come onto the bench.
Not for the first time, France have swung the axe, with six changes from the XV that lost to Wales. In the backs, Maxime Medard and Wesley Fofana drop out and teenage centre Romain Ntamack slips to the bench, which means Geoffrey Doumayrou and Mathieu Bastareaud renew their powerful centre partnership from the autumn.
Interestingly, ex-France fly-half Thomas Castaignède suggested this week that Bastareaud should switch to No 8 because he lacks the pace of an international threequarter. “As a No 8, Bastareaud could be even better than Louis Picamoles,” says Castaignède.
Gael Fickou, who has started only three of his 42 Tests on the wing, wears the 14 shirt vacated by Huget’s switch to full-back and there’s a place on the bench for Toulouse scrum-half Antoine Dupont, who many feel should be starting.
Up front, Atonio, Willemse and Wenceslas Lauret miss out and among those stepping in is flanker Yacouba Camara, whose marauding runs caused England a lot of problems last year.
The eight French replacements have only 25 caps between them, evidence either of a growing desperation or a realisation of the need to discard perpetual losers and blood young talent.
What have the coaches said?
England head coach Eddie Jones: “After the Ireland game we’ve had to refocus and reset. Players have been very good and certainly by Sunday we’ll be at our best.
“The French are always an interesting side to play against. They are full of talent, they have a lot of unpredictability. It’s hard to prepare tactically against them, so we have had a real focus on ourselves.
“It is unfortunate Maro is injured but he’s been rehabbing well so we’re hopeful he will be back earlier than first predicted. We’ve got great depth in the squad so Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes will fill his shoes very well.
“We have gone for Chris Ashton on the wing; we think he might sneak us a try early in the game. Jack Nowell was brilliant against Ireland and he’ll play a significant role for us.
“We can’t wait to play in front of our supporters. I’m sure they will be buoyant after the first-round results and we promise we’ll play a better game on Sunday.”
Any interesting statistics?
* France’s last Six Nations win at Twickenham was in 2005 (18-17), when Dimitri Yachvili kicked six penalties to overturn a 17-6 half-time English lead.
* England lead the Six Nations head-to-head 12 wins to seven.
* France have lost seven of the eight Tests they’ve played since beating England 22-16 in Paris last March.
* You have to go back to 1911 for England’s record victory against France – a seven-try, 37-0 win in the days when tries were only worth three points. It was only France’s 14th Test match.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
The match at Twickenham kicks off at 3pm UK time on Sunday and is live on ITV. There will also be live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online, and TV highlights on BBC2 on Sunday at 6pm.
The referee is Welshman Nigel Owens, with touchline assistance from Ireland’s Andrew Brace and New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill. The TMO is another New Zealander, Glenn Newman, who was on duty in Dublin last weekend.
What are the line-ups?
England: Elliot Daly: Chris Ashton, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May; Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Kyle Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, George Kruis, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Moon, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes, Dan Robson, George Ford, Jack Nowell.
France: Yoann Huget; Damian Penaud, Mathieu Bastareaud, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Gael Fickou; Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Demba Bamba, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Felix Lambey, Yacouba Camara, Arthur Iturria, Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Dany Priso, Dorian Aldegheri, Paul Willemse, Greg Alldritt, Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Thomas Ramos.
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