France do have a structure but it blossoms when they are given room to unleash their instinctive running skills

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The Independent Online
Half-way through the Five Nations' Championship and things are going swimmingly for England. We have two emphatic wins under our belt and, more especially, we are settling on a style of play which brings out the best in the whole side. All the frustrations from the games before Christmas have been dispelled, replaced by a new-found confidence.

Much has been made of our inability to turn on this "style" until late on in the game. One need look no further than the age of this team to see why. This team is not just young in age, but also young in time together. Just as any sportsman or team must weigh up the opposition, even soften them up, before delivering the killer blows, so it is with this team. At the moment that period of sizing up takes that much longer.

Saturday will be no different, indeed the game will need to be treated with even more circumspection. Scotland and Ireland presented a host of problems to overcome but France will be that much harder. All the planning in the world can never prepare you for the French at their best. Yes, they have some structure to how they play, but it really blossoms when they are given their head, and the room, to unleash their natural, instinctive running skills.

This has been apparent in passages of play against Ireland and Wales. A clearer example, however, is the much-vaunted performance of Brive against Leicester in the European Club final last month. The foundations were laid by the pack, but the icing was well and truly added by their backs. Incisive running, cutting angles on to the ball with pace to burn, a joy to watch if not to play against.

When deprived of the ball, or space, however, the French can blow up. In the semi-final, Leicester did this to Toulouse and you could quite clearly see all heart and drive go out of the Toulouse players as they became increasingly frustrated.

England's approach in the last decade, therefore, has been to minimise any opportunities for the French to play their natural game. Loose kicks are anathema and the general pace of the game must be slowed down so they cannot enforce their own tempo or movement.

This stranglehold extended even to the French psyche, to such an extent that during England's seven years of dominance between 1988 and 1995 the French had more or less lost the game before they even took to the park. Then came the World Cup third- place play-off in 1995, and last year, France finally beat England on European soil.

After those two victories they will be all the more dangerous, no longer constrained by any mental hang-ups and eager to replicate Brive's impressive win.

This will only add to the expectation at Twickenham on Saturday. An unbeaten record has to go and one team's rebuilding will be stalled, for a fortnight at least.

Our supporters have been fed a glut of tries of late which they had begun to worry wouldn't arrive. They will hope for no less on Saturday and even more so against the French to prove that this English renaissance is no false dawn.

France are a world force and masters of the running game and would be a huge scalp for this young side, especially if victory was achieved with the style of rugby we have shown so far.

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