This, however, depends on Richards being persuaded he can risk the elbow he dislocated last month and on the selectors - whose
bemusement is caused by their team's utter failure to progress after the narrow win over Scotland - making more changes than they have liked to allow themselves during England's recent years of
Geoff Cooke, the team manager, specifically ruled out change for change's sake when he was reflecting on last Saturday's 13-12 defeat by Ireland, and the baleful memory of the years in the Seventies and Eighties when no England player ever felt secure is a powerful disincentive.
On the other hand, it might not end with the return of Ian Hunter, Nigel Redman, Ben Clarke and Richards. Full-back and half-back are also under scrutiny and there is a strong case for finding a place off the bench for Mike Catt, who has been the most incisive back in English rugby this season.
Richards and Clarke, another who has been nursing an elbow injury, would with Tim Rodber reunite the back row who faced New Zealand three months ago and if Redman were also to win back his place England would go in against the French with the entire pack who outplayed the All Blacks.
Redman gave his finest performance in that game but even so it is a measure of England's bewilderment that he should be touted as the answer to their ball-winning problems. Martin Bayfield may not have been the same since a neck injury but Redman has spent most of his career as a front-jumper and for many years has been no more than stopgap when jumping for Bath in the middle.
Hunter's squad selection portends a return on the right wing, where he has won his three caps rather than in his Northampton position at full- back. 'I feel I should be given my chance,' he said yesterday. 'I haven't done badly with three tries in three games before they dropped me for Tony Underwood.'
ENGLAND SQUAD (v France, Paris, 5 March): Backs: J Callard (Bath), I Hunter (Northampton), T Underwood, R Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville, M Catt (Bath), R Andrew (Wasps), S Barnes (Bath), K Bracken (Bristol),
D Morris (Orrell). Forwards: J Leonard (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), G Rowntree (Leicester), B Moore (Harlequins), G Dawe (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield (Northampton), N Redman (Bath), T Rodber (Northampton), N Back (Leicester), J Hall, B Clarke, S Ojomoh (Bath), D Richards (Leicester).
ENGLAND A SQUAD (v France, Paris, 5 March): Backs: P Hull (Bristol), D Pears (Harlequins), A Adebayo (Bath), N Beal (Northampton), P Holford (Gloucester), S Potter (Leicester), D Hopley (Wasps), P Challinor (Harlequins), P Grayson (Northampton), J Harris (Leicester), M Dawson (Northampton), A Kardooni (Leicester), S Bates (Wasps). Forwards: C Clark, J Mallett (Bath), A Mullins (Harlequins), K Dunn (Wasps), R Cockerill (Leicester), A Blackmore (Bristol), D Sims (Gloucester), A Diprose (Saracens), C Sheasby (Harlequins), D Ryan (Wasps), R Jenkins (London Irish).