Undoubtedly, France vs England is the standout match in the forthcoming Six Nations campaign. The clashes are dubbed ‘Le Crunch’ by both countries due to the intense physical nature. Giving us a preview of the action is Dominic Evans.
Usually the physicality is administered by the forwards so it is no wonder that this is where the focus of the media lies. History reveals a brutal conflict is to be expected predominantly up front. Who can forget Serge Betsen’s crunching tackle on Jonny Wilkinson in the 2003 Rugby World Cup (RWC) semi-final or the England pack demolition of the French forwards instigated by Brian Moore in the 1991 RWC.
One player known for confrontations is Dylan Hartley, in the build-up he told the Daily Mail, “The French are very similar to us and pride themselves on their pack and, if their platform goes well, the rest of their game follows.”
After the Autumn internationals, England’s forwards pack came of age. The ever critical Sir Clive Woodward even called it ‘scary’ for the opposition.
France under Philippe Saint-Andre has not delivered so far. 2013 was a year to forget with the wooden spoon in the 6Ns, 3-0 test loss in New Zealand and only winning against Tonga in the November.
French captain Pascal Pape, “as for France against England, it is a mythical match,” he said. “It is a game which plays a big part in the history of French rugby. Every match against England is always very intense and it will be quite a fight.”
Language from both camps is comparable. The set-plays are crucial in establishing a foothold to grant the backs space to unlock defences. Their hard work up front will win the match. From the quotes a sense of honour and pride is at stake. Neither sets of forwards will give a quarter, win at all costs is the battle cry.
The clash will also produce match –ups in every position. The player in the pivotal number 9 role for France is Jean-Marc Doussain. He is naturally a fly-half, traditionally French teams revolve around the scrum-half. The Toulouse player outclassed Owen Farrell in the Heineken Cup in round 5. Danny Care occupies the number 9 shirt for England, on form for his club Harlequins, will be hoping he can replicate for his country who is agile, astute and feisty.
In midfield France have the agile and speedy Wesley Fofana combined with the mighty human cannonball Mathieu Bastareaud. Their counterparts are the slick Billy Twelvetrees alongside debutant Luther Burrell who is thrown into the deep end immediately. The inside to outside centre axis is England’s most underdeveloped area. Since the retirement of Mike Tindall and Will Greenward duplicating a similar collaboration has been unsuccessful so far. Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt were close prior to injuries. Lancaster’s bold move of current form has proven a success, generally, in the past.
Other exciting rivalries include the fly-halfs, the inventive debutant Jules Plisson lines up opposite the pragmatic Farrell. The aforementioned Doussain will undertake the hard graft to enable Plisson the space to release the backline. While for the red rose, Farrell is the epicentre of England’s creative force.
In the back row, number 8s for the two teams are human wrecking balls in the guise of Louis Picamoles and Billy Vunipola. Both outstanding for their clubs providing front foot platform to build from.
From the above it is clear how intriguing the encounter should be. France, in the past year, stumbled in games and under achieved. Saint-Andre will ensure his troops will be out for blood to halt an English victory at Stade de France on Saturday evening. England in an attempt to become world cup champions next year they need to deliver performances regularly. An opening away tie to France does not get much tougher.
France 23 match-day squad:
(15) Dulin, (14) Huget, (13) Bastareaud, (12) Fofana, (11) Medard, (10) Plisson, (9) Doussain, (7) Le Roux, (8) Picamoles, (6) Nyanga, (5) Pape (capt), (4) Flanquart, (3) Mas, (2) Kayser, (1) Domingo.
Replacements: (16) Szarzewski, (17) Forestier, (18) Slimani, (19) Maestri, (20) Burban, (21) Chouly, (22) Machenaud, (23) Fickou.
England 23 match-day squad:
(15) Brown, (14) Nowell, (13) Burrell, (12) Twelvetrees, (11) May, (10) Farrell, (9) Care, (1) Marler, (2) Hartley, (3) Cole, (4) Launchbury, (5) Lawes, (6) Wood, (7) Robshaw (c), (8) B Vunipola.
Replacements: (16) T Youngs, (17) M Vunipola, (18) Thomas, (19) Attwood, (20) Morgan, (21) Dickson, (22) Barritt, (23) Goode.
Pundit Arena, Dominic Evans.