PREVIEW: France v England

Fri, 09 Mar 2018 07:13

SIX NATIONS, ROUND FOUR: England coach Eddie Jones compared veteran French counterpart Jacques Brunel to a boxer who had gone the distance with heavyweight great Muhammad Ali as he forecast a gruelling Six Nations encounter for his side in Paris.

Saturday's match will be the first time Brunel has taken on England in his current role as France boss.

But having served as forwards coach when current French Rugby Federation President Bernard Laporte was in charge of the national side and, more recently, head coach of Italy, the 64-year-old Brunel knows reigning Six Nations champions England well.

Jones, who first came across Brunel some 20 years ago, said the former Perpignan coach had always picked physically imposing teams and that nothing had changed now he was in charge of France.  

"Anyone who can last the distance, go 15 rounds against Muhammad Ali… if you coach professionally for 20 years you are doing a lot of things right," said Jones on Thursday.

"He's a good selector, he's got a certain style of play, always picks big physical teams, they always play like that and if they’re good enough they win."

But Jones was confident an England side without injured regular captain Dylan Hartley at hooker would be able to best France physically despite their shock 13-25 loss away to Scotland last time out.

"We are expecting a tough old tussle. But as long as we are brutal and ruthless at the gain-line, I think we will have too much for them," the Australian explained.

"It will be a tough game and he [Brunel] is a great coach."

This has been France's first Six Nations under Brunel, who replaced the sacked Guy Noves.

Brunel was unlucky to see France lose their tournament opener to Ireland, now chasing a Grand Slam, following a last-ditch drop-goal from Jonathan Sexton.

Then came a 26-32 loss to Scotland in a match where France were on top until late on before a 34-17 success against Italy in Marseille - Les Bleus' first victory in nine Tests and 11, long, months.

Jones, however, was not surprised by France's progress under Brunel.

"No, as I said at the start of the tournament I always thought they would be a much better team.

"They have an experienced coach in place who knows what international rugby is about...He's a disciplined coach and they're starting to play like that, so it hasn't surprised me at all."

Unlike their Six Nations rivals, France have never had an overseas coach in charge of their Test side and Jones said: "I'm sure every country would like to have their own nationality as coach because there is a lot of national pride involved, so I don't think they are missing out on anything.

"They are investing in French coaches and good luck to them."

Jones's teams have long been renowned for their fitness, something France will have to match if Saturday's match is a close contest.

"You either get out and set the tone or the last 20 you are either closing the game down or you’ve got to accelerate what you are doing," Jones said. 

"I think the good teams traditionally do well in those periods."

Brunel has made one change to his side, recalling Francois Trinh-Duc at flyhalf in place of Lionel Beauxis.

"The young boy Trinh-Duc, he's not that young any more," said Jones of the 31-year-old, a veteran of 64 Tests. 

"He takes the ball to the line more [than Beauxis], got a good attacking kicking game but they are similar types of players."

Players to watch:

For France: Big centre Mathieu Bastareaud was the star in France's win over Italy and Jacques Brunel is expecting another big performance from him. Experienced flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc is back in the spotlight and his x-factor out wide can derail England's Six Nations campaign. Hooker and captain Guilhelm Guirado always gives 100 percent for his team and won't stand back against the old enemy.

For England: Anthony Watson will give England something extra on attack from the fullback position, while Ben Te'o has been tasked with bringing down the big Mathieu Bastareaud. Lock Maro Itoje has all the skills you want in a modern-day lock, while Jamie George is a much better all-round hooker than regular captain Dylan Hartley.

Head to head: France will rely heavily on Mathieu Bastareaud bashing through the midfield and that is why Ben Te'o and Owen Farrell will probably have a few headaches at the end of the game. Francois Trinh-Duc is a match winner and he is a little bit more unpredictable than his opposite number George Ford. France have a big second row in the form of Sebastien Vahaamahina and Paul Gabrillagues and they should pose a big challenge to the likes of Maro Itoje and Joe Launchbury.

Recent results:
2017: England won 19-16, London
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 26-24, Paris
2013: England won 23-13, London
2012: England won 24-22, Paris
2011: France won 19-12, Auckland (WC Pool match)
2011: England won 17-9, London

Prediction: There is a lot of pressure on England to win this game and stay in the race for the title. However, it is a home game for France and they have had a lot of criticism levelled against them in the last few months. It is going to be wet in Paris and it will be an arm-wrestle. We would like the French to win it, but England will take it by seven points or less.

Teams:

France: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Remy Grosso, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhelm Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Adrien Pelisse, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Kelian Galletier, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 Lionel Beauxis, 23 Gael Fickou.

England: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Jonny May, 13 Ben Te'o, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 James Haskell, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Jonathan Joseph, 23 Mike Brown.

Date: Saturday, March 10
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 17.45 (16.45 GMT; 16.45 UK & Ireland Time)
Expected: Rain and a thunderstorm is expected in Paris tomorrow. A high of 17°C and a low of 10°C is expected. It will be a bit breezy as well.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Agence France-Presse @rugby365com

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SIX NATIONS
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Team P W D L Pts
Ireland 5 5 0 0 26
Wales 5 3 0 2 15
Scotland 5 3 0 2 13
France 5 2 0 3 11
England 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 1