Jonathan Davies: A day crying out for a touch of genius. Don't bet on it

One thing is certain, England do not need a loose game
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The Independent Online

Before the Six Nations began, today's meeting between France and England was to be the defining crunch, the Grand Slam decider. Not any more, after Scotland bravely destroyed both sets of dreams.

It is still an enthralling match but, because of the flaws revealed by the Scots, neither team will be attacking it confidently. They both have too much yet to get right.

But you can depend that the basic gameplans won't change and that the physical intensity will be as strong as it always is. The winning team will be the one who manage to be first to sort out their self-doubts. Because they have home advan-tage, the French will start as favourites, but in no way would I write off England.

They will rely heavily on their strength in the front five, and why shouldn't they? Their problem has been that they haven't been efficient and clinical enough to make full use of that power.

With Julian White and Matt Stevens at prop they will be a tougher scrummaging prospect. They have not managed to dominate anyone in the scrum yet and the giant Andrew Sheridan has not been the force he was against Australia in November. But the Aussies were so weak it was naïve to think he would have the same impact in the Six Nations. Sheridan is still young and I am sure we will see him coming off the bench to do a bit of monster ball-carrying.

The big change is at scrum-half, where the superior experience of Matt Dawson will steady the ship and provide a speedier service from the breakdown than Harry Ellis did. Dawson was accused of being past it by his old England colleague Austin Healey, but that was part of the kidology before they faced each other in the Powergen Cup semi-finals last week. The way Healey played that day I would have also found a space for him in the England squad. They need every scrap of creativity they can get.

Mike Tindall and Jamie Noon will carry on trying to bash their way through and intimidate the French, and this time errors may not conspire against the English back line. One thing is certain, England do not need a loose game. They must keep it tight, grind out their opportunities and take them coolly.

The return of Dimitri Yachvili to the French scrum-half position will remind England that he beat them almost single-handedly the last time they were in Paris. That will ensure that the English will give Yachvili and his outside-half, Frédéric Michalak, as much grief as possible.

They will put the squeeze on via the front five to let their back row apply the pressure on the half-backs. Michalak hasn't had a good time in the tournament and he is not renowned for coping with the sort of harassment England will have planned.

But the Frenchman has the big advantage of Damien Traille outside him at No 12. Traille has such a good kicking game that he can take a great deal of pressure off the stand-off. Charlie Hodgson will be envious of this benefit his opposite number will enjoy.

France haven't been playing well. Like England, they'll be disappointed and a little cowed by their poor form, but they'll try to move England about the park. In that way they'll find the space in which they can utilise the extra skill they have in their backs.

The tournament needs a couple of good games to make it tick. Unless you happen to be Scottish, it's been interesting without being in any way exciting.

Wales's Grand Slam last season was criticised for being poor value but the tournament was much better than this, with good tries and thrilling moves. I'll be delighted to see some today.

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