England versus France is never a boring affair. It would have been ringed on calendars as a potential Grand Slam decider, and although France's subsequent pair of losses have put paid to that idea, this age-old rivalry can still serve up a classic encounter.
England have made some ambitious changes to their team, with Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Manu Tuilagi all coming into the starting line-up. Hartley has been brought in to shore up the line-out, which wobbled slightly against Ireland, while Manu Tuilagi is selected to set up a titanic midfield clash with fellow giant and French counterpart Mathieu Bastareuad. Seismometers at the ready for that one.
The most interesting selection, however, is that of Lawes. He has vastly more experience at lock, having never started at blind-side (where he has been selected for Saturday) for the national team. It is perhaps an attempt to get in the face of a new French half-back partnership. Lawes has form with Morgan Parra, a man who can dominate a game if you give him the chance, and François Trinh-Duc is another who can be rattled. With his agressive tackling and physicality, there are few better at rattling than Lawes.
And what of the French? They have made several changes to their team, which actually looks a much better one than that of the opening couple of rounds. England will be quietly cursing Wales and Italy for forcing them into actually changing things up. The arch-poacher Vincent Clerc returns on the wing, while the aforementioned half-back pairing should provide vastly more stability and structure to their game. The old cliché 'little French general' was never more apt than when discussing Morgan Parra, and Lancaster and co. will have to shackle him from the beginning.
One to watch: Wesley Fofana
Finally, Philippe Saint-André seems to have realised what everyone else has been saying from the start of the championship: Fofana is wasted on the wing. Probably the best centre in the Northern Hemisphere, he has that rare ability to creating something out of nothing. Combining blistering acceleration with deft hands and beautiful running lines, Fofana is the man that England will have to be most wary of.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manu Tuilagi
- Courtney Lawes
- Dylan Hartley