Eddie Jones questions how France’s youth policy will cope with the onslaught England intend to unleash when they launch their Guinness Six Nations in Paris on Sunday.
Jones will field most of the starting XV that blazed a trail to the World Cup final last autumn for the start of their title pursuit, but the hosts are taking a different approach knowing they stage the next global showpiece in 2023.
New head coach Fabien Galthie named 19 uncapped players in an initial 42-man squad which had an average age of 24. Matthieu Jalibert is the eldest of the two remaining fly-halves at only 21.
While understanding Galthie’s thinking, Jones insists it could backfire when England turn the screw.
“It’s a young French team that’s won the Under-20s (World Cup) and is building towards the World Cup in 2023. There are a couple of ways you can go in that regard,” Jones said.
“When I took over England in 2016 I kept experienced players and brought young players in.
“Test match rugby requires experience and France have decided not to take experience in, they’ve gone with youth. And they might be wrong, they might right.
They will have never have played against a brutal physicality and intensity that we are going to play with on Sunday.Eddie Jones
“We don’t know but it’s going to test those young players because they will have never have played against a brutal physicality and intensity that we are going to play with on Sunday.
“This is not domestic rugby. You don’t get that intensity in domestic rugby. That’s why you call it Test rugby. You don’t get that in Under-20s competitions.
“So at stages they’re going to be looking at each other wanting to know where the answers are going to come from.
“There are not too many of them who have experienced that before. They don’t have the experienced players to call on to say ‘what do you do?’ and that’s going to be our intent.
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📃 Voici la liste des 𝟮𝟴 𝗷𝗼𝘂𝗲𝘂𝗿𝘀 du #XVdeFrance qui vont rester à Nice ce week-end pour la préparation du #SixNations. Comme prévu dans l’accord @lnrofficiel / FFR, 14 joueurs seront mis à disposition de leurs clubs ce week-end et retrouveront le groupe dès dimanche. #NeFaisonsXV
“We played with that brutal physicality for the last four years and we just want to get better at it.”
It is at fly-half where France are taking the biggest gamble with 20-year-old Romain Ntamack favourite to start ahead of Jalibert.
“We are always looking for a weak link. We want to target them and make their life uncomfortable,” Jones said.
England’s key task entering the Six Nations is to ensure they avoid the decline that has afflicted previous World Cup runners-up since 2003.
On each occasion the team that lost the final failed to progress beyond the last eight in the next tournament and Jones is determined for his Six Nations favourites to buck the trend.
“It’s interesting. You look at all the World Cup finalists and they’ve generally deteriorated over the next four years,” Jones said.
“They’ve gone from a top two team to a top eight team in fours years. Why? I think there are a number of issues.
“The expectation gets higher and the team doesn’t cope with that. Because they made the final, they think they are going OK whereas every other team that hasn’t made the final is forensic in looking at where they can improve.
“That fact that it’s happened the last 16 years shows you how difficult it is to stay at the top. It is difficult to stay at the top.
“You have to have this relentless desire to be better, this relentless curiosity to find out what you can do better. And you have to have competition for places to keep players on their toes.”