The French are daring us to dare today

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The Independent Online
We have three good wins behind us, and now we have the French before us. The French are providers of the unexpected, mixing a blend of artistic back play with uncompromising forward power.

Previously England have stuck to a pretty basic though obviously difficult strategy of denying the French a clean line-out, stopping their forward drives behind the game line, constantly pressurising the half-backs and adopting a kicking strategy, backedup with sound following up. But it does not end there.

It cannot have escaped anyone's attention, if they have read the press of late, that this game is more than a physical confrontation on the pitch. Olivier Merles' absence from the French side is a shrewd decision by the team coach Pierre Berbizier. In one fell swoop he becomes a courageous diplomat but more importantly removes a huge liability when it comes down to discipline. It is no secret that the Achilles' heel of the French lies in their temperament. Rattle a couple of cages and the team fall apart. This more than anything is why England has been so successful. Berbizier knows this and will no doubt be attempting to instil some calm in his team.

Furthermore he is daring us to dare. He is leading us to believe that what use is a win unless it is done in style. Well, we may surprise him by doing just that, but, let's be honest, he more than anyone else will settle for breaking the stranglehold by whatever means possible.

Looking forward, though, undoubtedly that is the biggest decision facing us. Do we stick to what has been successful in the last seven encounters or do we persist with the style or rugby that has served us well in the three games so far this season?

Much like Nick Faldo realised that his swing, which had already brought him a couple of majors, needed modifying were he to continue to succeed, so it is with this England side. We are confident that the style of rugby we have employed thus far can also trouble the French. The strike-power that we possess, with potent runners from one to 15, will mean that for once an England side cannot be accused of being predictable. Our ability to take the ball up the middle with dynamic mauls or penetrate wider outthrough the backs will, we hope, create enough chances for us to succeed. Of course, should the situation demand it then we can simply revert to a positional kicking game. The difference is that this time around the French cannot assume that we will just perform the latter.

The pressure is on to deliver. Three emphatic performances showing a clear progression from Romania through Canada and on to Ireland have raised the public expectation, which is now comparable with how it was for the great Welsh sides of the Seventies. And none of us wishes to be in the first side to lose to France in eight years. However, the real pressure comes from within. As a squad, we expect great things from one another, as powerful and motivational a force as there is. I have big expectations ofwhat this side can achieve and I could not place a limit on my desire to be part of that.

For myself, this is a game I am really savouring. It is my first against the French and my first opposite the superb Philippe St Andre. As a Test player, you relish the chance of going in against the best and they do not get much better.

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