Lewis Moody: Don't let France take an early lead or the old flair could all come back

Moody Views: We won't see violence of old à la Mickey Skinner, but there will be some real confrontations

France are gripped by a crisis of confidence. Two games down, beaten in Italy and on home soil by Wales, and they are bottom of the table. This for a side that has the best record in the dozen years of the Six Nations. There is plenty of doom and gloom around the French game but nothing gets them fired up quite like a game against England. There is history here.

France will be better this weekend than they have been in their opening two games – England have to expect that and will certainly not make the mistake of underestimating their opponents. This will be a tough game and in the opening exchanges it will be brutal.

The opening quarter is key – the French are very good once they get into a game and get a score on the board early doors. That's when the French side of old will emerge, the flair and confidence will return to a side that still has plenty of talent in its ranks. Suddenly the pressure of the world is no longer on them. If they are behind they find it much harder. England have to keep them off the scoreboard through the opening stages and then that pressure will grow weightier and the problems and tensions of Paris and Rome and the last few weeks will return.

It is set to be an almighty battle royal between the two packs in that first quarter. That will play a huge part in determining the direction the match takes. I'm sure we won't see some of the violence of old in these French and English encounters – à la Mickey Skinner, Nigel Heslop and Serge Blanco and the likes – but there will be some real confrontations fought up front especially in the front row. Dan Cole, Dylan Hartley and Joe Marler are not the types to back down, they are abrasive confrontational characters and know what will be coming at them from the French. That front row battle will be pivotal to setting a good cornerstone for one side. Look for the first couple of scrums to end up in some heated exchanges.

But if England can come through that opening period, and I expect them to do so, then I can see another victory for Stuart Lancaster's side, one with a margin of around 12 points. They must maintain their discipline and not give away soft penalties. If they can win that forward battle they can knock the stuffing out of France and I can see them building a healthy margin.

On the other hand if they lose their discipline and allow France into the match early, give them that fillip on the scoreboard, then it is game on.

Both coaches reveal their sides today. The French focus will be on whether Frédéric Michalak is retained in the No 10 shirt.

I can understand why Philippe Saint-André wants a consistency of selection – he has an idea how he wants his side to play and the players he believes are best suited to deliver that – but I would never have picked Michalak at 10. I find him wanting when the pressure really comes on.

Contrast that with Owen Farrell, who has become so dependable. He is not going to set the world alight like Michalak can occasionally do, but he will make every tackle, he will throw himself into every confrontation, he will get his kicks, from hand or for goal. He has become utterly dependable and to have a guy like that in your team is far more important than someone who can every now and then create a moment of absolute genius that will leave you spellbound, but is a liability in defence, kicking and other areas.

It is not easy for Michalak either, having to switch between playing at 9 for his club and 10 for his country. If you want to hit the highest standards that fly-halves need to then you have to be playing there week-in, week-out, not flipping back and forward.

England are expected to make changes despite their two wins. Tom Youngs has had such a great start to his international career but he had a tough game against Ireland. Dylan Hartley has got the experience, he has been involved at this level for a long time, and Stuart may prefer to give him the shirt back for a game like this.

Courtney Lawes is such a different athlete. The way he put himself about in Dublin impressed. He is absolutely committed to every challenge, a wholehearted performer and that is what he brings, along with his bulk, to the side. Off the pitch he comes across as a laid-back character but he is far from that on the pitch. He reminds me a bit of Danny Grewcock – off the field a gentle giant, on it an absolute beast. It is his tenacity and extra line-out presence that could see him deployed at six against France. It is a role he can fill but he has the ability to be a world-class lock and that is where the long-term focus should be.

I see Manu Tuilagi definitely starting alongside Brad Barritt, which is tough on Billy Twelvetrees, but I know Stuart has a real confidence in Brad's consistency at international level. Consistency for a coach is so important, being able to rely on that level of performance.

Talk of changes highlights what I like about this England side, and squad, at the moment. There are so many players who can step up and do a job, they bring different styles – from full-back with Alex Goode, Mike Brown and Ben Foden, to scrum-half with Danny Care and Ben Youngs, to fly-half with Farrell, Toby Flood and Freddie Burns. There is virtually nothing to pick between so many of them.

Wales and Ireland should both win by 10 points

Elsewhere this weekend I can see two away wins. Ireland may have injury problems but should be 10 points better than the Scots at Murrayfield on Sunday. Wales too should also have enough to enjoy a similar margin over Italy in Rome.

The win in Paris was a huge one for them and should be enough to spark a turnaround in form and confidence. Leaving Sam Warburton on the bench sends a strong message to the whole squad – no one is infallible and if you don't perform, or there is someone else playing better, then you will not start no matter who you are.

Lewis Moody is a TAG Heuer ambassador

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices