Lancaster defends Farrell choice for Paris battle

England coach ignores the critics and backs unchanged side to shock experienced French

The selection of an unchanged England team? That was the easy bit after the bright performance against Wales last time out, even though Stuart Lancaster claimed to have thought long and hard about the outside-half position and the three players tugging away at the No 10 shirt. The hard part of beating France in their own capital is, and will always be, finding a way of getting the ball to the principal playmaker in the first place. "This," the caretaker coach admitted, "is a very big challenge, especially for the forwards."

Nevertheless, before dealing with the detail of that challenge – of how a newly-minted tight unit might neutralise the Tricolore threat at the scrum and blunt the line-out threat posed by such accomplished practitioners as Julien Bonnaire and the sensational Imanol Harinordoquy, the Basque No 8 whose mastery did for England on World Cup quarter-final day in Auckland five months ago – Lancaster had to address the No 10 issue, as raised by the sharp-tongued Leicester head coach Matt O'Connor in midweek.

O'Connor rounded on the England selectors after Toby Flood, the World Cup midfielder and most experienced Test hand among the contenders for the playmaking role, was declared surplus to requirements after training on Tuesday. Lancaster, the Australian pronounced, was not interested in "creative players", being more concerned with not losing games than actually winning them. In short, O'Connor was spectacularly unimpressed.

"That's up to Matt," responded Lancaster, diplomatic as ever. "I learned very early in this job that there are a lot of opinions out there, and people are entitled to hold those opinions. From my point of view, everything comes back to what we believe in as a group. At the last meeting we held as players and management, I said the only thing that really mattered was what went on inside the room. Ultimately, performance is driven by self-belief. I think the people who were in there believe in themselves, in each other and in what we're trying to do.

"Do we want to score tries? Absolutely. We want to score as many points as we can, and tries provide you with the best chance of doing that. But the reality of international rugby is that there are some bloody good players trying to stop you scoring those tries. Defences are tight and they're well-organised. You need to take that into account, especially as France will defend in a different way to the way Wales defended against us at Twickenham."

Central as Flood is to England's long-term planning – the national team might have been spared at least some of the pain suffered in New Zealand last autumn had the manager Martin Johnson been bold enough to stick with him as his first-choice No 10 rather than revert to Jonny Wilkinson as the safety-first option – there was never the slightest possibility of him being picked ahead of the Saracens youngster Owen Farrell for tomorrow's game in the northern reaches of Paris.

Equally, it is hard to argue with the decision to recall Charlie Hodgson to the bench. When a coach talks, as Lancaster has, about the value of loyalty and expects the message to be taken seriously, the placing of money in the general vicinity of the mouth is not just important, but essential. Hodgson would have started against Wales, but for a frustratingly minor injury to his finger. Had he been ditched from this latest match-day squad, he could legitimately have cried "foul".

Farrell may be only three games into what promises to be a long and satisfying international career, but he is already a key component in England's defensive operation. And for all the talk of try-scoring, defence will be the watchword tomorrow. When France score early against their great rivals in these championship encounters, as they did through Gérald Merceron and Harinordoquy in 2002 and through Florian Fritz four years later, they tend to win comfortably. Given the gulf in experience between the two sides, they can be expected to start fast this time as a means of driving home their advantage in the know-how department.

Come to think of it, they did pretty well for themselves on the "hit the ground sprinting" front in last October's global quarter-final, reaching the interval 16 points to the good. Had Lancaster's men cast an eye over those events in planning for this resumption of hostilities? "It's interesting," he replied. "The players have made very little reference to it. They've talked much more about the last Six Nations game at Stade de France, in 2010."

There are only four survivors from the team who started that narrow 12-10 defeat: the full-back Ben Foden, the wing Chris Ashton, the hooker Dylan Hartley and the tight-head prop Dan Cole. There again, only five – Foden, Ashton, Cole, the centre Manu Tuilagi and the flanker Tom Croft – are still in place post-Auckland. England are in a state of flux that contrasts sharply with French solidity. "France are a mature team," Lancaster pointed out. "They have been to a World Cup final, they have an average age of 30 or 31, they have 900 caps between them."

Under the circumstances, Philippe Saint-André's side should be very hot favourites indeed. But they are unsure of themselves in midfield – François Trinh-Duc has been replaced at outside-half by the kick-obsessed Lionel Beauxis; Aurélien Rougerie is miles out of form in the centre – and strangely indecisive at scrum-half. Saint-André might have recalled Dimitri Yachvili, who marked his return from injury by scoring 25 points for Biarritz last weekend. Instead, he has plumped for Julien Dupuy, who has more than a touch of the Yachvilis about him but is, by definition, less authentic than the real thing.

Last week against Ireland, the Tricolores struggled to retain possession at the ruck when Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and the magnificent Stephen Ferris caught the whiff of a potential turnover. If England's back-row unit can find a way of making a similar impact, it is possible to see the game being decided late in the day – perhaps, if the Gods are smiling on Lancaster, by the boot of the astonishingly self-assured Farrell (always assuming he does not fall down with cramp, as he did against Wales).

Thus far, the red-rose loose forwards have been worryingly conciliatory when it comes to contesting the ball on the floor. Conciliation is not generally considered to be a feature of cross-Channel games, however. Assuming the England leave their good manners behind, they are capable of making a proper fist of it.

Sacres Bleus: Three Frenchmen who can upset England's apple cart

Clément Poitrenaud

The Toulouse full-back is a player of moods and moments, some of them brilliant, others rather less so. Picked because Maxime Médard, his mutton-chopped clubmate, suffered a serious knee injury earlier in the championship, he is, when the stars are in alignment, Médard's equal as a broken-field runner. And that's saying something.

Wesley Fofana

A newcomer to Test rugby, the much talked-about centre from Clermont Auvergne has scored tries in each of his three Six Nations starts. Selected ahead of the Perpignan midfielder Maxime Mermoz – a man described by the last coach, Marc Lièvremont, as "undroppable" – he combines raw power with slide-rule running lines.

Thierry Dusautoir

On his day – and those days tend to dawn when there is something really important at stake – the captain delivers performances that touch greatness. His defensive effort against the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup was the stuff of legend, as was his display in last year's global final. A majestic flanker.

Chris Hewett

Results so far: France 30-12 Italy, Scotland 6-13 England, Ireland 21-23 Wales; Italy 15-19 England, Wales 27-13 Scotland; Ireland 42-10 Italy, England 12-19 Wales, Scotland 17-23 France; France 17-17 Ireland.

Remaining fixtures: Today Wales v Italy, Ireland v Scotland. Tomorrow France v England. 17 Mar Italy v Scotland, Wales v France, England v Ireland.

In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party in February 2014
people12 undisclosed female victims are seeking $100m in damages
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
Bear and hare woodland scene from John Lewis Christmas advert
newsRetailer breaks with tradition, selling real festive fir trees online for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
Stunt BMX rider Danny MacAskill
cyclingJaw-dropping video shows Danny MacAskill's latest death-defying BMX stunt
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
Anthony stopped due to the lack of step free access at Mansion House
Blue Ghost Fireflies in Brevard, North Carolina. Blue Ghost fireflies are unique because they stay lit and only hover about a foot off the ground.
Photo Location: Brevard, North Carolina
travelGallery: The winner of National Geographic's photo contest receives $10,000
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?