England must ignore looming Wales showdown to avoid letting complacency creep in against unpredictable France

England and Wales are on a collision course for a potential championship-decider in two weeks’ time - but allow themselves to think like that and Eddie Jones’ side will crumble to the French

Jack de Menezes
Saturday 09 February 2019 22:01
Comments
Six Nations match preview: England v France

In the leafy confines of Bagshot, it must feel like the stars are starting to align. For England go into today’s Guinness Six Nations clash with France knowing that their championship future is not only in their own hands, but that the bookmakers are increasingly making them favourites to complete a second Grand Slam in four years.

England have not won two Grand Slams in the same Rugby World Cup cycle since their triumphs in 1992 and 1995, but beat France at Twickenham and the prospect of a clean sweep will edge that little bit closer. Having watched an injury-ravaged Ireland fight their past Scotland on Saturday in a performance that shows they are still far from their best and a misfiring Wales fail to secure a bonus point in Italy, England may be forgiven for licking their lips.

But that is exactly what they cannot afford to do. With a trip to Cardiff in two weeks’ time to face Wales on the horizon with the potential to be the match of the championship, England cannot afford to take their eyes of the task at hand this afternoon. France may look like a calamity, having surrendered a 16-0 lead to Wales to suffer defeat and completely abandoning their investment in youth after just one match, but they can never be counted out.

This is ‘Le Crunch’, after all.

"What happened against Wales probably shows how dangerous they can be more than anything," said Billy Vunipola on the eve of the Twickenham clash – a stadium where France have not tasted Six Nations success since 2005. "What Wales showed us was how not to start a game. If you give them a leg up, then France are extremely, extremely dangerous.

"We've all played against French sides - once they start feeling it emotionally then they're very, very tough to stop, so we can't allow them to get into that position. They're massive blokes and if you give them momentum they're tough to stop. As a pack we must confront the challenge of their big carriers.”

The performances of Wales, Ireland and Scotland on Saturday will have English fans bordering on expectant of a Gram Slam triumph if they can see off the French, although the Welsh side that edged past Italy was a shadow of what England will face when the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric and George North return to the starting line-up.

That match will make or break this championship if Sunday goes to form, as England are currently riding a wave of momentum in a way that France can only dream of. Eddie Jones has been vocal this week about his demand for England to become the world’s best side, and after defeating Ireland in such convincing circumstances last weekend – on top of coming with a split-decision of downing the All Blacks last November without Manu Tuilagi or either Vunipola brother – it is not farfetched to say that they are among the World Cup favourites.

France on the other side have won just three of their last 18 matches, an abysmal record for a side so used to being among the elite of world rugby. But such is the unpredictable nature of Les Bleus that you would not rule them out of pulling a victory from nowhere today, and their list of beaten opponents during that woeful run only backs up that theory: Italy, Argentina, and England.

Jones does not need to be told this, though. “I think every game makes you nervous because they play at the highest level and you know that if you’re off your game a little bit and they’re on their game then you’re going to find yourself on the wrong side of things.

“So are we more nervous than we would be against anyone else? I think we’ve got the right level of thinking, the right level of physical intent to do some damage to France and I think that’s what we want to do.”

Jones, or rather his players, have a plan to try and remove any chance of France getting their own way. It stems in the roots of the 32-20 victory over Ireland in that England became the first side in more than a year to make them play the game they didn’t want to play.

Eddie Jones wants his England side to make sure complacency against France is not an issue

That’s exactly what England skipper Owen Farrell has planned for France in order to remove any power from their mammoth tight-five – one that this week contains the highly-talented 20-year-old tighthead prop Demba Bamba who will make the grounds around Twickenham shake to their very foundations if England let him get a run of speed up.

“The most important thing is that we have an influence by the way we play, how we execute our game plan,” said Farrell, whose tactical kicking along with scrum-half Ben Youngs pinned Ireland back in territory that they rarely visit at test level. “Of course it is never going to be perfect and there will always be times where France get what they want but we have got to make sure when we are in control of the tempo that we play at the pace that we want to.

Billy Vunipola has warned England to front up against the giant French pack

“It is whatever is needed at the time. Of course we want to play at a fast pace because we think that is when we are at our best, but at the time when we are on the pitch we have to have a feel for what is needed and what we need to do. It could be speeding it up, it could be slowing it down.”

If England reproduce their Dublin display on home turf, they will blow France away. But if the giant French forwards can disrupt the home side in what are expected to be poor weather conditions, suddenly the Cardiff showdown will feel a distant dream.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in