Palmer: England are rugby's big boys and the French know it

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The Independent Online

Tom Palmer fired the first shot in the build-up to next Saturday's pivotal Six Nations showdown with France by declaring England to be the "big boys" of world rugby.

Palmer, who plays his club rugby in Paris for Stade Français, goaded the French after Les Bleus defence coach Dave Ellis admitted his players get more pumped up to face England than anyone else.

England and France lock horns next weekend as the only unbeaten teams remaining in the championship. The Six Nations title and a potential Grand Slam go on the line.

Palmer believes being hated comes with the territory as an England rugby player. But he stressed any French ill-feeling will not throw England from their increasingly confident stride at Twickenham next Saturday.

"Everyone hates the English and everyone raises their game when we come up against them," Palmer said. "It is the same when we go to Cardiff, Dublin, Edinburgh, even the Australians and Kiwis don't like us! That's just the way it is really, it's all part of our colonial history and our empire. I suppose it is a compliment. England are essentially the biggest union in the world and it's always good to beat the big boys, isn't it?"

Back in the days when Brian Moore was playing, it was routine for England players to wind up the French in the days leading into the game. It can be interpreted as an expression of England's new-found self-confidence that that they are once again prepared to fire a few barbs. England manager Martin Johnson enjoyed the spicy build-up to the Wales games and joined in himself with a punchy riposte to Warren Gatland's criticism of Dylan Hartley.

England are often viewed around the rugby world as arrogant. It is an image new Rugby Football Union chief executive John Steele is looking to change. Palmer's comments send out a message just seven months before the Rugby World Cup that England are stirring once again. Their swagger is coming back.

Johnson refuses to get carried away by their victories over Wales or Italy, reminding his players they were two from two last year and failed to win another game. England are a different team now, revitalised over the last 12 months by the arrival of players like Chris Ashton, Ben Youngs and Ben Foden on the scene.

France are reigning Grand Slam champions and displayed a fortitude in defeating Ireland last weekend that is not always associated with their rugby, particularly on foreign soil. But Palmer is confident England have the quality to counter that French threat and keep their own Six Nations title bid on course.

"It will be a tough challenge. They will try and dominate you up front, in the line-out and in the mauls and they are very dangerous off turnover ball," Palmer said. "We have to match them and impose ourselves in the forward game and not give them any opportunities to counter-attack, so no sloppy passes, no turnovers, no poor kicks. That is where they are so dangerous. I think we've got guys who can hurt the French. Look at the way James Haskell played in the second half against Italy, with all those carries. If he can bring some of that into the French game, he will cause some problems."

* Danny Cipriani endured a miserable Super Rugby debut as the Melbourne Rebels were hammered 43-0 by the Waratahs in the opening game of their inaugural campaign at AAMI Park. The England fly-half had been one of the franchise's marquee signings as they prepared to join the competition, and he was quickly thrust into the fray as a ninth-minute replacement for James Hilgendorf. But it proved to be a chastening debut as the Waratahs, last season's semi-finalists, scored tries through Kurtley Beale (two), Drew Mitchell (two), Tatafu Polota-Nau, Rob Horne and Phil Waugh to claim a comfortable win.