Stuart Lancaster: Incredible bulk needed to tackle French heavyweights

 

England have made it their business to present a smiling face to the world since Stuart Lancaster's arrival as head coach – indeed, the players have been almost unnervingly polite and approachable for more than a year now – but the "after you, Claude" theory of rugby does not extend to selection. Lancaster lifted the veil on his own ruthless streak by making three changes to his starting line-up for the Six Nations meeting with France and if he felt even a tinge of sorrow for the demoted trio, he showed no sign of it.

"I'd have been perfectly content going into this game with the people who started the game against Ireland," he said, referring to the fine victory in Dublin 12 days ago – a triumph on territory so hostile that it might have been beyond any England side of the post-Clive Woodward era. "But for this game on this occasion, and considering the way we want to play against this opposition… we feel this is the right mix. We have bigger, heavier men coming into the side who want to prove a point, and that's good."

By replacing the centre Billy Twelvetrees, the hooker Tom Youngs and the blind-side flanker James Haskell with Manu Tuilagi, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes respectively, the coach believes he has increased the level of pure physicality his side will bring to bear on a French team showing no fewer than seven changes from the one that lost against Italy and Wales, almost all of which can be said to be for the better, even before a scrum has been set or a pass thrown.

It is patently obvious that England expect to be challenged where it hurts most, at close quarters. "We think there are three key areas: the set-piece; the battle on the gainline; and the way the contest unfolds in the last 20 minutes," Lancaster mused. "We want to get it right in the first two of those areas so we're in a good place to take advantage late in the match. We don't expect this game to be decided in the first half."

On the face of it, demotion to the bench is scant reward for prevailing in a battle royal against a vastly more experienced Irish side, and if the front-row arm-wrestle between Youngs and Hartley has always been too close to call, both Twelvetrees and Haskell can feel hard done by.

The absence of Twelvetrees, in particular, means England will go into the game with a creativity deficit, although Lancaster believes the Gloucester midfielder's highly-developed passing game will be influential in the final quarter.

Not for the first time in English rugby history, nor for the 101st time, the red-rose brigade are going into a round of Le Crunch with the intention of crunching first and creating later. Lancaster likes the idea of Lawes, the most merciless of tacklers, causing mayhem in open field – and, in more technical vein, shoring up a line-out that is certain to come under pressure from a well-drilled Tricolore operation.

"The statistics show that France have driven more than half their line-out possession, so they'll be going after us in the mauls," the coach predicted. "Clearly, that's a strong part of their game – and they'll be aware that Ireland took some metres out of us in that area in Dublin.

"We're aware of the threat, but addressing it is not rocket science. You either stop it at source by not letting them have the ball in the first place, or you get you head in there and show some bloody-minded commitment."

Lawes, in particular, seemed ultra-committed yesterday. "France will bring some physicality with them," said the Northampton forward, a wolfish smile spreading on his face. "That's why I've been picked. We don't want them bullying us, do we? We'll have to put a stop to that as soon as possible. You take your shots as they come. If I get a shot, I'll certainly take it."

Less than a week ago, both Lawes and Hartley spent time in the sin-bin as Northampton chiselled out a valuable Premiership victory at Worcester. Lawes was particularly annoyed. "I was actually pulling out of the tackle," he complained, recalling a failed attempt to marmalise the former England outside-half Andy Goode, his intended victim. "I'd have hurt the guy if I'd gone through with it. There are people you don't want to be running into. I'd like to think I'm one of them."

Lancaster will undoubtedly stress the need for iron discipline in the hours before kick-off – "You don't win international matches with 14 men, or by giving away penalties," he remarked yesterday – but equally, he wants his two recalled forwards, not to mention the unusually destructive Tuilagi, to set about their opponents with a rare relish.

"You can't over-prepare for France because they can play it any way they choose," the coach commented, "but a big part of our approach has to be based around limiting their opportunity to attack from broken-field situations. That means showing the kind of discipline we showed against the All Blacks before Christmas."

Yet it might be said that the French, who once walked on the wild side emotionally speaking, have been too correct by half in recent games: they conceded only seven penalties in losing to Wales in front of a disenchanted home crowd last time out. England will not make that mistake. Not with Lawes in the line-up.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Life & Style
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit