Preview: England v France

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 07:40

SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: England, who are riding the crest of the rugby wave, will be hoping to wash France out of the way at Twickenham on Saturday.

England had a great year last year, winning 13 out of 13, while France won four out of 10.

England beat Australia four times in the year, while France lost to them.

But there is a word of caution: England did not play New Zealand and while France lost to  New Zealand it was only 19-24.

What sort of game will they play? French flair is now a part of history.

They are now more likely to hope that physicality will do the trick.

England, on the other hand, are moving to a more balanced game.

Mind you, this French team has lots of running.

It is a game to capture the interest of the rugby world.

There is the tradition of animosity between the two countries, of France's dislike of English arrogance and English disdain for the French that has not dissipated as England has developed a taste for wine and more palatable food.

Players to Watch

For England: You start with the fullback - Mike Brown. He likes to create chances for his side to run with the ball. He is eager to counterattack and good at it, fast and strong. Jonny May, England's daredevil wing, is no slouch, a hard man to bring down. At centre there is creative Owen Farrell and thrustful Jonathan Joseph. In the pack, the astonishing man to watch may well be Joe Marler - an unbowed survivor of a prop. He survived eccentric hairdos, tattoos and a broken leg. There will, of course, be lots of interest in young, athletic Maro Itoje, whom England have included on the flank, thus adding weight and height to their forwards. How will the change of position work?

For France: Scott Spedding also likes to create chances, is eager to counterattack and good at it, fast and strong. Yoann Huget, France's wing, is on the bench. That can only mean that the two Fijian wings, Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa, are excellent, exciting players. Newboy scrumhalf Baptiste Serin is certainly one to watch, just 22 and very lively.

Head to Head: It will start with the front rows - Uini Antonio against Joe Marler, Dan Cole against Cyrille Baille and hooker against hooker, which is also captain against captain, Dylan Hartley against Guilhem Guirado. Will Hartley behave? Will he still be effective if he behaves? There may not be as many scrums as in the days of yore but the sturdy work of props remains vital. At the line-outs and about the field, the four athletic locks, Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes on the England side against Frenchmen Yoann Maestri and Sébastien Vahaamahina, have huge contributions to make. Goalkicking is so important. England probably have the best in Owen Farrell while scrumhalf Serin may well do France's kicking. Goalkicking is a reminder of the need for discipline. For some reason visiting sides to Twickenham often find themselves more penalised than England.

Recent results
2016: England won 31-21, Paris
2015: France won 25-20, Paris
2015: England won 19-14, London
2015: England won 55-35, London
2014: France won 16-24, Paris
2013: England won 23-13, London
2012: France won 22-4, Paris
2011: France won 19-12, Auckland (World Cup quarterfinal)
2011: England won 17-9, London
2010: France won 12-10, Paris

Results in 2016 against common opponents
Argentina: England won 27-14; France won 27-0 and lost 30-19
Australia: England won 37-21, 39-28, 23-7 and 44-40; France lost 25-23
Ireland: England won 21-10; France won 10-9
Italy: England won 40-9; France won 23-21
Scotland: England won 15-9; France lost 29-18
Wales: England won 25-21; France lost 19-10

Prediction: The impetus is certainly with England and they also have home ground advantage. At Twickenham England have beaten France 30 times while the French have won just 11 times. If ever a side had the temptation to be overconfident, surely England is that side. That said, it is the first match of the tournament, and that has insecurity enough to counter overconfidence. We expect an English victory by about 10 points. It is so hard to see where France can win. But remember that day in 1999 at Twickenham when France came from behind to run the All Blacks off their feet. And this time France seem to have picked a team to run, They have a back three who can run, creative centres and an energetic handful at scrumhalf. This could be a great match.


England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Teimana Harrison, 20 James Haskell, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jack Nowell.

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Rémi Lamerat, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Damien Chouly, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Xavier Chiocci, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Arthur Iturria, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Yoann Huget, 23 Jean-Marc Doussain.

Date: Saturday, February 4
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 16.50 (17.50 French time; 16.50 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)

By Paul Dobson

Graphic courtesy of MyProtein

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Team P W D L Pts
Ireland 2 2 0 0 9
England 2 2 0 0 9
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Scotland 2 1 0 1 4
France 2 0 0 2 2
Italy 2 0 0 2 0