Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 December 2014

Lawes drafted in for France encounter

Courtney Lawes to start at blindside flanker when England take on France this weekend
Courtney Lawes to start at blindside flanker when England take on France this weekend

Courtney Lawes will make his first England start at blindside flanker as one of three changes head coach Stuart Lancaster has made to a winning team for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations game against France.

Lawes' nine previous England starts have all been at lock but he has been pressed into back-row action in place of James Haskell, whose preparations have been disrupted by the flu. Manu Tuilagi returns to the England midfield in place of Billy Twelvetrees, after making his comeback from an ankle injury via the bench in the 12-6 victory over Ireland.

Dylan Hartley has replaced Tom Youngs at hooker as unbeaten England tackle a French side reeling from their worst start to a championship campaign for 31 years. Haskell, Youngs and Twelvetrees all feature on the bench.

Lancaster said: "We thought long and hard about changing a winning team which did so well against Ireland. But we believe that Dylan, Courtney and Manu are ready for the opportunity and allow us to vary our play, while the bench will add impact and energy as the game unfolds in the second half."

Tuilagi's return sets up a seismic midfield battle with Brad Barritt, England's defensive rock, returning to his more natural position at inside centre.

All three England changes indicate an intent to be abrasive and physical against France. Lawes has been used as a high-impact replacement so far this championship. He has played at blindside flanker for Northampton before and he will also offer England an additional lineout option.

Lancaster explained the reasoning behind restoring Tuilagi and Hartley to his starting line-up against the French ahead of Twelvetrees and Tom Youngs.

He said powerful centre Tuilagi provided "good gainline options and good options defensively" and that Hartley, as well as being one of England's "most experienced players" was also "a bigger, heavier man" than Youngs.

England team to play France: A Goode (Saracens); C Ashton (Saracens), M Tuilagi (Leicester), B Barritt (Saracens), M Brown (Harlequins); O Farrell (Saracens), B Youngs (Leicester); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), C Lawes (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), T Wood (Northampton).

Replacements: T Youngs (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), T Waldrom (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins), T Flood (Leicester), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester).

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