Grand Slam-chasing England eye latest Six Nations scalp
February 21, 2013
Courtney Lawes will pack down in the relatively unfamiliar position of blindside flanker against France © Getty Images
England will resume their bid for a Six Nations Grand Slam when they tackle France at Twickenham on Saturday.
Head to Head
An impressive victory over Scotland in their opener was followed by another against Ireland last time out to keep them on course for a first title and clean sweep since 2003. In contrast, France have failed to live up to the pre-tournament favourites tag with a shock reverse at the hands of Italy compounded by a home defeat to Wales - the first time they have lost their opening two Five or Six Nations games since 1982.
England's two victories have highlighted the fact they are a multi-dimensional side able to adapt their approach depending on the opposition and the conditions while France have lacked cohesion and a spark. As a result it is no surprise the hosts enter this game with a settled look to their side with coach Stuart Lancaster retaining the same squad but rotating his starters. France have no such stability to rely on with coach Philippe Saint-Andre opting for widespread changes in a bid to stop the rot.
Despite their recent Six Nations dominance over their cross-Channel rivals, their current form and growing belief, England will be wary of underestimating the French who boast too much individual talent to underperform to such a degree for a third game in a row.
England - Player to Watch: Courtney Lawes has been handed a recall and will pack down at blindside for the first time in an international clash. It will also be his first Six Nations start - will he make it a game to remember for other reasons?
England - Team News: Centre Manu Tuilagi returns to partner Brad Barritt in midfield instead of Billy Twelvetrees while Dylan Hartley gets the nod at hooker ahead of Tom Youngs. Lawes will start at blindside rather than his usual second row berth for the first time instead of flu-victim James Haskell in the only other change to the side that started against Ireland in Dublin last time out with all three displaced players dropping to the bench.
France - Player to Watch: Wesley Fofana returns to the France midfield from where he has scored four tries in five appearances - can he add to that tally at Twickenham?
France - Team News: Fly-half Frederic Michalak and scrum-half Maxime Machenaud are among the casualties from the defeat to Wales with Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra preferred at half-back. Vincent Clerc returns on the right wing, with Wesley Fofana moving to inside centre and Maxime Mermoz dropping out of the squad. Thomas Domingo takes Yannick Forestier's place at loose-head with Benjamin Kayser starting at hooker in the place of Dimitri Szarzewski. Christophe Samson, who has only one cap, replaces Jocelino Suta with flanker Yannick Nyanga stepping in for the injured Fulgence Ouedraogo.
Key Battle: The midfield battle looks intriguing with both sides packing muscle and flair - but will England's Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt or France's Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud dominate the gainline?
Trivia: If France lose to England on Saturday, it will also be the first time since 2001 that France have lost three matches in a Six Nations campaign. The last time France lost all of their Championship matches in a campaign was in 1957.
Stats: The last time England failed to score a try against France at Twickenham was in 1999, when they beat the visitors 21-10.
Betting: Mako Vunipola grabbed two tries for his club Saracens last weekend - fancy him to continue the scoring habit? Bet365 are offering 50/1 for the England prop to be the first tryscorer. Or do you think France will return to top form? You can also get 3/1 on Les Bleus winning the Twickenham showdown.
"I'm not saying that (England are fitter). I'm saying we aim to peak in the last 20 minutes."
"England can be our Grand Slam. They're in a state of euphoria. Everybody sees them winning the Grand Slam, everybody sees us taking the wooden spoon. We will need to bring enthusiasm and confidence into the game"
Prediction: England will weather a much-improved performance from France and claim another eye-catching victory with a blend of the power and flair they have already showcased in recent weeks.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Despite having lost all four of their 2014 Six Nations games, the future of Italian rugby is bright with the team showing a new youthful core, argues Enrico Borra
"The loudest cheer at a rugby game, away from social media gimmicks, pumping music and pyrotechnics will always be for a try." Tom Hamilton on the Twickenham atmosphere
"The only thing that will stop this England team from becoming a great team is themselves. They need to ask themselves 'what can we be?'" The Phil Vickery column
The latest Monday Maul looks at the hectic final weekend, the Lions hangover, the superb Mike Brown and the 'selfie'