Preview: France v England
Fri, 31 Jan 2014 06:39
Rain predicted for the Stade de France
France will be looking to put last year's woes behind them when they take on England in their Six Nations opener in Paris on Saturday.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre's team endured a horror tournament last year in which they finished last, and only managed to notch two victories in total in 2013.
By contrast England only lost two matches last year - to Six Nations champions Wales and world champions New Zealand - and they have lost just one of their last seven Six Nations encounters with France.
England coach Stuart Lancaster has named the same pack that played against New Zealand in their last match last year, but the backline has a somewhat new look to it with wing Jack Nowell and outside centre Luther Burrell earning their first Test caps.
Saint-Andre named a backline debutant of his own in the form of flyhalf Jules Plisson, although the rest of the backline has a settled look to it.
However, with rain predicted for the Stade de France on Saturday this match is likely to come down to the performances of the respective forward packs.
France appear to have the edge in terms of experience in this area, with a number of seasoned campaigners up front, but the England pack have proven that they cannot be taken lightly and have the added benefit of continuity.
With both teams blooding new players there is an air of uncertainty hanging over the match, but no matter who is playing there is seldom very much to separate the sides so expect another hard-fought encounter.
Players to watch:
For France: All eyes will be on debutant flyhalf Jules Plisson, but he has a welath of experience outside him in the backline with the likes of fullback Brice Dulin and centre Wesley Fofana able to punch holes in any defence.Big No.8 Louis Picamoles will look to get his side on the front foot and up front it will be up to captain Pascal Pape and experienced tighthead prop Nicolas Mas to tame the England pack.
For England: Fullback Mike Brown should be a threat from the back, and he may be under added pressure considering the inexperience of the two wings. Flyhalf Owen Farrell will be expected to give the team direction and livewire scrumhalf Danny Care's speed could cause the French defence some headaches. Captain Chris Robshaw will do the hard yards with support from Tom Wood in the loose, whilst the likes of Courtney Lawes and Dan Coles will be lynchpins in the set-pieces.
Head to head: Both Mike Brown and Brice Dulin were impressive in the year-end Tests in November so they will look to carry that form into the Six Nations. In midfield the big battle will be between Wesley Fofana and Billy Twelvetreeswho are both powerful centres. Louis Picamoles and Billy Vunipola will want to make an impact from the back of the scrum with support from blinside flanks Tom Wood and Yannick Nyanga. Pascal Pape and Courtney Lawes will be the key men in the line-outs whilst at scrum time England loosehead Joe Marler will have his work cut out against Nicolas Mas.
2013: England won 23-13 in London
2012: England won 24-22 in Paris
2011: France won 19-12 in Auckland
2011: England won 17-9 in London
2010: France won 12-10 in Paris
2009: England won 34-10 in London
2008: England won 24-13 in Paris
2007: England won 14-9 in Paris
2007: France won 22-9 in Marseille
Prediction: England are by far more consistent but do not have much experience in the backline so we are backing France to pull off a win at home by five points.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Maxime Medard, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Jean-Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Bernard Le Roux, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Pascal Pape (captain), 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Yannick Forestier, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Yoann Maestri, 20 Antoine Burban, 21 Damien Chouly, 22 Maxime Machenaud, 23 Gael Fickou.
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Brad Barritt, 23 Alex Goode.
Date: Saturday, February 1
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 18:00 (17:00 GMT)
Predicted weather: 70% chance of rain, 30 kph wind, high of 11
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
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