England out to keep title hopes alive
March 9, 2012
Stuart Lancaster faces a tough test in the latest stage of his very public interview for the permanent England coaching job © Getty Images
England will be hoping to get their Six Nations campaign back on track whilst derailing France's own title challenge when the two sides clash in Paris on Sunday.
The two European giants meet for the first time since France's memorable victory in last year's Rugby World Cup quarter-finals and while many of the same faces will go head-to-head at the Stade de France, the latest staging of 'Le Crunch' brings together two new coaches in Philippe Saint-Andre and Stuart Lancaster.
Defeat to Wales last time out ended England's hopes of an unlikely Grand Slam but their opening victories over Scotland and Italy leave them very much in the title mix with two rounds of the Championship remaining. France remain unbeaten following successes against Italy and Scotland but a draw with Ireland ended their chances of a clean sweep and leaves them trailing Wales who they face next weekend.
France - Player to Watch: Three tries in his first three Test appearances marks centre Wesley Fofana out as a special talent - can he keep that scoring run going against England?
France - Team News: France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has opted to freshen up his half backs with the inclusion of Lionel Beauxis and Julien Dupuy at the expense of Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra. Beauxis returns to the starting line-up at fly-half for the first time since 2009, while Dupuy replaces Parra in the No.9 jersey after a similarly long spell on the sidelines. In the pack, Julien Bonnaire continues at openside, with Imanol Harinordoquy at No.8, and Louis Picamoles among the replacements. Centre Aurelien Rougerie and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski are also retained despite speculation hinting they would be replaced by Maxime Mermoz and William Servat.
England - Player to Watch: Winger Chris Ashton has been relatively quiet in this year's Six Nations - could he bounce back to top form on the ground where he made his Test debut in 2010?
England - Team News: England have named an unchanged side with Owen Farrell retaining the No.10 shirt despite the return to fitness of Charlie Hodgson who must settle for a place on the bench. Hodgson, who started at fly-half with Farrell at inside centre in England's wins against Scotland and Italy, returns from a finger injury to replace Toby Flood on the bench. Stade Francais lock Tom Palmer also returns to the 22-man squad with a seat on the bench after Courtney Lawes was ruled out of the tournament with a shin injury.
Key Battle: A bruising forward battle awaits but who will make the most of that hard-earned possession? France's new-look half back pairing appears to be a bit of a gamble while England have kept faith with a relatively inexperienced duo. Will experience trump youthful exuberance or will talent win through?
Trivia: England's starting line-up features only five of the side that started the 19-12 World Cup quarter-final defeat to France in October - Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Manu Tuilagi, Dan Cole and Tom Croft. France field eight familiar faces - Vincent Clerc, Aurelien Rougerie, Jean-Baptiste Poux, Nicolas Mas, Pascal Pape, Thierry Dusautoir, Julien Bonnaire and Imanol Harinordoquy.
Stats: Only three times since 1992 have France failed to score a try in a home Five/Six Nations match - in 2010, 2000 and 1996. All three games were against England.
"A France v England match isn't just about rugby. A lot of people might only watch one rugby match a year, and that match will be France v England."
"I can't control the timelines. All I can do is do this job to the best of my ability and I can guarantee that's what I'll do."
Prediction: Expect France to weather the demands of their third Six Nations outing in as many weeks and deliver the latest blow to England's perceived revival.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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