France v England talking points
Key issues ahead of the Paris clash.
England’s NatWest 6 Nations crown is in danger of being snatched by Ireland to elevate Saturday’s clash with France in Paris into a crucial fixture. Here Press Association Sport examines five talking points heading into the match.
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Unlike the only previous defeat of Eddie Jones’ tenure – against Ireland in last year’s Six Nations – England have an immediate opportunity to claim redemption. A number of fault lines were exposed by Scotland in Murrayfield and the penultimate round of an ailing title defence is the chance to prove the team’s capacity to grow when faced by adversity.
A new era begins…
Jones’ most radical team selection may provide the answer to the concerns emerging as the 2019 World Cup draws ever closer. Dropping Mike Brown for the first time and picking Anthony Watson at full-back instead could emerge as a pivotal moment in the team’s evolution, while the Stade de France encounter will also provide a clearer picture of Ben Te’o’s viability as a Test starter. And for Jamie George, it is the chance to demonstrate why he demands selection ahead of Dylan Hartley.
…but not for the back row
One area of the team that has avoided surgery despite the setback at Murrayfield is the back row where Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw and Nathan Hughes survive intact. Jones continues to pick two locks despite the breakdown shortcomings exposed by Scotland and although Sam Underhill’s toe injury has limited his options, another poor showing in Paris will make change inevitable. France great Serge Betsen has called for England to be targeted in this area, describing the inertia in back row selection as “funny and amazing”.
Apart from bringing George into the starting XV, Hartley’s tight calf has ushered in another chapter in the team’s history that may be judged by history as critical. Owen Farrell has long been viewed as England’s captain in waiting, a natural successor to Hartley who must prove the fiery nature which has served the team so well is not an obstacle to providing strong leadership.
Bastareaud v Te’o
A heavyweight collision to be savoured, two of the continent’s biggest bruisers will go head to head when Ben Te’o and Mathieu Bastareaud face off at outside centre. Te’o has been promoted from the bench for the purpose of stopping the Toulon juggernaut, whose power, footwork and offload have the capacity to cause England endless problems.