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Hartley hails 'slicker' England

Dylan Hartley warned France ahead of Saturday evening's Twickenham showdown that England are "so much better" than the team that won a landmark victory in Paris 12 months ago.

England are braced for a French backlash after Les Bleus lost to Italy and Wales, their worst start to a Five or Six Nations campaign in 31 years. But Hartley sees no reason to fear. The Northampton hooker spent Wednesday night watching last year's 24-22 victory in Paris and it reminded him how far England have come.

"Owen Farrell and I room together and on Wednesday night we sat and watched last year's France-England game over a cup of tea and we said 'we're so much better than we were then'," Hartley said.

"We weren't a good team, but what we did have was a drive and a kind of collective determination that they were not going to beat us - as we did that whole tournament last year. The detail wasn't there as to how to run moves and shape and all these pretty things. We just had a good 'dogged' effort.

"If we can bring that same mentality with the detail and attacking shape and all the prettier things we've been working on over the last six months then we can definitely get a result. Now I think we're a much slicker outfit."

England return to Twickenham having followed up their record autumn victory over New Zealand by defeating Scotland and Ireland in contrasting styles. Stuart Lancaster's men took their attacking game to a new level in downing Scotland, with Farrell and Billy Twelvetrees playing flat to the line.

Against Ireland it was England's control and high-pressure defence that won the day and against France they are braced for an intensely physical contest. France have named a powerful side, including Wesley Fofana in the centre alongside Mathieu Bastareaud, while scrum-half general Morgan Parra gets his first start of the championship.

While England made only three changes compared to France's seven, their intent is clear with recalls for the abrasive Hartley, the midfield juggernaut Manu Tuilagi and ferocious tackler Courtney Lawes.

"You want your home ground to be that fortress that teams don't want to come and play in," said captain Chris Robshaw. "If you look back to the build-up to 2003, this place was a real fortress and teams coming here knew they were only going to get a loss.

"We are not at that stage yet but, fingers crossed, we can get to that. They will come here wanting to prove a couple of points. The first 20 minutes will be very physical and very intense. We are in a good place. It is about keeping your composure and hopefully getting the right result."


From Belfast Telegraph