Martin Johnson tells England to target 'fragile' France
Martin Johnson has demanded England prey on France's fragility on the road by turning Twickenham into a bearpit for tomorrow's pivotal RBS 6 Nations showdown.
England and France lock horns in 'Le Crunch' as the only two remaining unbeaten teams in the championship. One of them will have their Grand Slam dreams wrecked tomorrow.
Last year, Les Bleus clinched the title with a 12-10 victory over England in Paris, a night which Johnson ranks as the most disappointing of his time as manager.
France boast world-beating potential but Johnson believes England can exact sweet revenge tomorrow - and take a giant stride towards their first title since 2003 - by breaking their brittle confidence early.
Les Bleus have managed just one championship victory at Twickenham in their last six visits - by a single point in 2005 - and two years ago the French collapsed as England roared into a 29-0 half-time lead.
"Everyone says that you never know which French side will show up - but you can effect that with how you play," Johnson said.
"If you let them play they will look fantastic. If you get them under pressure it is harder for them.
"We are not coming here expecting them to be anything other than dangerous - but we can effect that.
"Our players have proved to themselves that if they play near their best they will be in a Test match with anyone.
"If they get things right through the game they are capable of having a crack at anyone.
"When I was growing up, if England could beat France it was always a big win and that has not changed."
The idea of French teams being unpredictable is no myth. England lock Tom Palmer has witnessed it - and been bemused by it - since moving to play his club rugby at Stade Francais.
And Mike Tindall, who will captain England for the third time in the continued absence of Lewis Moody, will hammer the message home just before kick-off.
"You don't know which French side will turn up but you also know if they play as well as they can they are the world's best," Tindall said.
"If you have a bad start they pick up momentum and can be very hard to stop.
"You have to get on top of them and contain them. Especially with the French, if you can give them nothing and really put them under pressure in that first 20 you can get on top of them.
"We will try and explode out of the blocks and impose our game from the start and hopefully give them a tough time.
"We are about producing a performance every time we take the field and if we get that performance the results will come on the back of it.
"We managed to do that in the wins against Wales and Italy. That is not going to change tomorrow."
Although England lost in Paris last year, Johnson's side turned a corner with their performance that night at the end of an otherwise dismal Six Nations campaign.
Toby Flood replaced Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half, Chris Ashton and Ben Foden both made their full Test debuts while Palmer and Tindall returned to the team.
Invigorated by new blood and a determination to cast off the shackles, England discovered a new side to themselves and they have been improving ever since.
England also have momentum.
They beat Wales in Cardiff for the first time since 2003 and the 59-13 trouncing of Italy a fortnight ago was their biggest Six Nations victory in a decade.
"We have come a long way since last year's game," Tindall said.
"We used to talk about peaks and troughs and we have had little stumbling blocks like the South Africa game - but as a gradient we have been on an upward slope and we want to keep it that way.
"We want to play a high-tempo game with movement. When you have people who make line breaks like Mark Cueto, Ashton and Foden you have to give them that freedom because that is what makes them the players they are.
"They are probably one of the best back-three units in the world. We have to find ways to get them in the game." For all England's ambition and France's potency out wide, the decisive battle in Paris last year was in the scrum and Johnson expects the same tomorrow.
French tighthead Nicolas Mas was too strong for Tim Payne and he milked the England scrum for penalties.
Andrew Sheridan is back at loosehead for England tomorrow, having been injured for the Italy game, and tasked with keeping the beast in his cage.
"France have always been the best scrummagers in the Six Nations. We will need all hands on deck when we are scrummaging," Johnson said.
"Some teams you play are just there to survive in the scrum and do other things. It is part of France's psyche to get some form of dominance there."
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