France v England is one of oldest rivals in International rugby, they first played in 1906, so just the 108 years ago then. This weekend’s game though is more interesting than most though with France needing to bounce back from heir dismal wooden spoon season last year and England trying out some new backs, apropos of nothing Stuart Lancaster went on record saying he’d only give players debuts if he thought they looked ready during the weeks leading up to this game and Anthony Watson looks to have far more stardust in his boots than Nowell or Burrell to me, Lancaster could left looking foolish in 24 hours. Here’s a quick breakdown of both team’s assets and restrictions
England, the good –
§ That pack, Dylan Hartley is not a man you’d want dating your sister, or driving your car for that matter but against a French front row who will be up for a battle there’s not many tougher cookies than Hartley and with 2 of Saints teammates alongside him England’s forwards should more than stand up to the test.
§ Owen Farrell’s goal kicking is right up there with the best in the world and with a pack that will pressurise a French team in their own backyard it will be a valuable asset.
§ Jack Nowell and Jonny May, I can’t imagine either are household names in France and with both lining up against players who prefer at 15 they have a chance to make a mark on International rugby.
§ Billy Vunipola, if the 7 forwards ahead of him can get him a solid platform he could run rings around his opposite number, the lumbering behemoth Louis Picamoles.
The bad –
§ Both Nowell and May have a propensity to get in awkward positions to defend and particularly when it comes to tackling, both can be susceptible to ungainly tackles that lead to yellow cards.
§ Nigel Owens is not a referee who likes “encouragement” from the players on the pitch and Danny Care in particular does to love to voice his concerns to officials. Aggravating any ref is never a good idea but particularly not Nigel Owens.
§ Will Carling tweeted today that Paris is a great place to make your debut, in relation to Huddersfield born Luther Burrell. Will Carling can count his lucky stars Mathieu Bastareaud wasn’t playing when he was. Burrell may be a revelation in the English backline but Bastareaud is even bigger than the 17 stone Burrell, not many will be standing between those 2.
§ Joe Marler & Dan Cole will be coming up against 2 of the best scrimmaging props in the world in Nicolas Mas & Thomas Domingo and while both Cole & Marler are more mobile they will have the devil’s own job if they try to drive straight at scrum time.
Now for the unpredictable (to say the least) French, the good –
§ Well they’ve picked a backline with plenty of flair, very much in the image of the coach Philippe Saint-Andre Dulin, Huget, Medard and Pilsson could change any game.
§ The front row, they have 116 caps between them and they’ll be looking to use that experience in the scrums, they may struggle to keep up with England’s more dynamic props during open play though.
§ The back row, more importantly the 2 back row replacements on the bench, if England do try to play an expansive and fast game using their new backs fresh legs in the back row could be vital and England’s only back row cover is number 8 Ben Morgan.
§ Wesley Fofana, he’s the top French try scorer in the Top 14 this season with 10, only his ASM teammate Naipolioni Nalaga who plays outside him has scored more.
The bad –
§ That backline might tackle like Saint-Andre did in his pomp (not very well).
§ Discipline could be a problem, any team whose captain already has 5 yellow cards and a red this season could be slightly “overenthusiastic” at the breakdown.
§ The French have recently taken to playing 9’s at 10 and vice versa and Saint Andre has selected Jean Marc Doussain at 9. Doussain is a great player and one with the rare claim to fame of playing in a Rugby World Cup final just months after playing in a Junior RWC for the French U20 side, but he has been playing at 10 for his club team Toulouse in recent weeks and is even listed on Wikipedia (the online home of inaccuracy) as a “Fly half”, he will probably adapt, but it could be a risk and he may take a while to settle.
§ Jules Plisson maybe a great rugby player but he’s not the first choice Fly Half at his club after the big money arrival of Springbok fly half Morne Steyn, incidentally the reason that Doussain has been shuffled around his team is due to big money foreign imports, so dilution of the French talent pool is a serious issue, especially where halfbacks are concerned.
§ There’s has appeared to be a serious disconnect between Saint-Andre and his charges ever since he took over from Marc Lievremont (even more than the tradition dissent French players show their boss), either Saint-Andre can’t express his ethos to his players before they take the field, or he’s picking players who incapable of fulfilling his game plan and this is why I can only see England winning this game.