Rugby: France v England Match Preview – Stade de France awaits two of the sport’s heavyweights
This Sunday, two of the international rugby heavyweights are pitted together as England travel across the Channel to face France.
Memorial clashes over the years have included arguably one of the most sensational tries Twickenham has ever seen by Frenchman Philippe Saint-Andre back in 1991, ‘The Balshaw Ballet’ in 2001 when the full-back terrorised France with a fine attacking performance, and a beauty from Flutey in one of England’s best performances under Martin Johnson three years ago. However, all the history and past statistics are forgotten for 80 minutes as France, still unbeaten in the championship, will want to keep up the pressure on Wales for this year’s Six Nations crown.
France come into the game having drawn their last match 17-17 with Ireland last weekend. Saint-Andre, now head coach of the national team, will be happy with his side’s response during last week’s nail-biter, having come back from 11 points down.
He will be hopping that his side is more clinical this Sunday following a number of missed opportunities to win the match against the Irish last weekend. The half-back pairing of Morgan Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc have both been dropped as a result, as the coach opts for the duo of Julien Dupuy and Lionel Beauxis in the hope of adding some attacking flair against what has been a resolute English defence so far.
In fact, it is England who has made a number of autumchanges to their match-day squad, with five players released and allowed to represent their clubs in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-finals. The most notable of these individuals is fly-half Toby Flood, whose only appearance in this year’s tournament came in the 19-12 defeat to Wales last time out. Flood, who struggled with injury at the start of the competition, was allowed more time to regain his fitness as Charlie Hodgson wore the number 10 shirt in England’s first two fixtures.
However, with Flood back in the fold against Wales, Owen Farrell was given the starting stand-off position in which he relished. Farrell is expected to keep the shirt despite Hodgson returning from injury, however another player who looks as if he will come back into the squad is lock Tom Palmer, replacing Courtney Lawes who has a shin problem.
It was only last autumn when France blew England away in the Rugby World Cup, with the French exposing the English frailties in a phenomenal performance. If Les Bleus can find the finesse that saw them score 16 unanswered points in just the first half of that game, there is no reason why they can’t rip England apart once again.
On the flip side, England still holds the attacking qualities in the squad that saw them score a fine try by Ben Foden that day, whilst the defence and discipline is much-improved. Trinh-Duc had a sensational match in October, however, Imanol Harinordoquy tradionally plays well against the English, and may play another key role in this battle.
England will have to find an answer to their try-scoring problems, with their only tries coming from charge downs by Hodgson. In order to have a chance, the likes of Foden, Chris Ashton and David Strettle will have to be involved in the game more. France need to be less sloppy in defence, as well as being as clinical as they were against the English five months ago, whilst the English have to find a way of giving their line breakers the ball more, and come up with more ingenuity at set plays.
The result of this game will be dependant on which side turns up. Both frustrating in their own ways, the two teams will have to overcome what has been their downfalls so far in this tournament, and will have to look to their big-game players to possibly win it for them.
It promises to be quite an encounter at the Stade de France, and if both teams can produce something close to their best performance, another classic may well unfold.