'Career-defining' clash for French

Fri, 22 Feb 2013 14:07
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France captain Thierry Dusautoir says Saturday's clash against England at Twickenham could be a "career-defining" match for his struggling side.

France captain Thierry Dusautoir has said Saturday's Six Nations Championship clash against England at Twickenham could be a "career-defining" match for his struggling side.

World Cup finalists France, the pre-tournament favourites, have arrived in London in the shock position of being bottom of the table following defeats by Italy and Wales - their worst start to a Championship for 31 years.

France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has responded by making seven changes and a positional switch to a team facing an England side bidding for a Grand Slam after wins over Scotland and Ireland.

Yet the knowledge of how France can find form from seemingly nowhere, as exemplified by their poor start to a 2011 World Cup where they recovered to beat England in the quarterfinals and come within a penalty of defeating New Zealand in the final, remains a worry for English rugby followers.

France's record against England at Twickenham is surprisingly poor, with just 10 wins in 41 matches and only three victories since 1985.

But back row forward Dusautoir, also France's captain at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, hopes those statistics will serve as an inspiration to his side.

"I want us to play with freedom, with a lack of pressure," he told a news conference at the team's London hotel on Friday.

"We have a healthy fear. I'm not really speaking of fear, more excitement.

"Twickenham is a temple of rugby. Very few French players know what it's like to win here. It would be great to join that group. We've always had the ability to raise our game for 'Le Crunch'. This is a match that can define your career.

"I have complete confidence in this team," Dusautoir added. "I hope to be talking tomorrow [Saturday] about why the French team is a paradox."

The French rugby public and press have been scathing in their criticism of the team's performances so far this season but Dusautoir insisted: "I think the most important thing is we expect, we expect to win tomorrow.

"The most important pressure is the pressure we put on our shoulders."

Former France captain Saint-Andre has recalled scrumhalf Morgan Parra and flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc.

And Wesley Fofana, one of the rising stars of world rugby, is back at centre having been on the wing, where the fit-again Vincent Clerc returns.

Up front, hooker Benjamin Kayser, prop Thomas Domingo and flank Yannick Nyanga all return, while Saint-Andre has also given a debut to Castres lock Christophe Samson.

Meanwhile England coach Stuart Lancaster has also 'beefed up' his team as well, with Courtney Lawes in at blindside flank in place of flu victim James Haskell and Dylan Hartley starting at hooker.

Meanwhile powerful centre Manu Tuilagi, who scored one and created two of England's three tries in their shock 38-21 win over world champions New Zealand in December, has been recalled in place of Billy Twelvetrees.

But France assistant coach Yannick Bru said: "We are physical too.

"Mathieu Bastareaud [France's giant centre] is not very weak, you know.

"I think one of the big mistakes will be to focus too much on Manu Tuilagi, Courtney Lawes and Dylan Hartley. We know the English team is very skilled.

"They have the capacity to control the ball and that is probably what they would like to do on Saturday, as they usually do when they play at Twickenham."

Former France hooker Bru added: "I think the match will be a very good test for the mentality and the character of the team.

"We will see what all the guys have in their stomachs because we are convinced it will be a very tough game, a wonderful experience against this English team which dominates Europe at the moment."

AFP

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