Dusautoir rallies his troops for 'Le Crunch'
ENGLAND v FRANCE PREVIEW:Ask a Frenchman if he fancies watching Les Miserables this weekend and he will assume you are offering him a ticket to Twickenham.
Of all the freezing grounds in all the world this is the last place Les Bleus would wish to spend their Saturday evening, particularly having lost their last four championship games.
The sick men of the Six Nations, at least on recent form, have it all to prove.
Which is precisely why England remain wary of visitors on the rebound from grim defeats to Italy and Wales. Mike Catt referred to France yesterday as a “wounded animal” but failed to specify whether he expected an onrushing wild boar or a headless cockerel.
The French do not seem entirely sure themselves, not always a good sign. Look back at past encounters and precious few have unfolded as predicted. Last year, few imagined England would storm the Parisian barricades as spectacularly as they did. The manner of the 34-10 home victory achieved by Martin Johnson’s side in 2009 was even more startling; the half-time score of 29-0 was positively ludicrous.
Whether history has any relevance to today’s game is a matter of opinion. Dylan Hartley told a story about meeting the former England hooker Brian Moore at training.
The Northampton man asked what lineouts were like when hommes were hommes and Moore used the immortal phrase “15 Eric Cantonas” to describe the opposition.
“Before I knew it he was stood on my foot with a hand across my face showing me how they used to do lineouts back in the day. A simple question and I’ve got a sore toe and Brian Moore’s palm in my face.”
When television summarisers are teaching hard-bitten professionals rugby’s darker arts, it is safe to assume the game has changed somewhat.
But Stuart Lancaster is concerned only about the present. Win and England will be just two wins away from a first Grand Slam in 10 years. Underperform and the valuable momentum gained against New Zealand, Scotland and Ireland will be frustratingly halted.
The secret of success is simple enough: deny the French possession at source, stand up to them physically, nullify the influential kicking game of Morgan Parra at scrumhalf and prevent Mathieu Bastareaud from rumbling over the gain line.
“We need to strangle them with our defence and not let the likes of Louis Picamoles and Thierry Dusautoir into the game,” said Hartley. “If we can stop the big ball-carriers with off-loading abilities we can definitely get stuck in.”
Hartley is equally adamant England’s scrum will remain in control of their own destiny against a souped-up French pack. “If you get your scrum right and get dominance it leads into other areas of the game. The number eight’s carrying slightly harder, you’re hitting rucks harder, you’re getting over the gain-line. So it does start up front.”
England’s composure and maturity on a horrible day in Dublin this month implied a team increasingly comfortable in its own collective skin. If they can keep their discipline, it will become harder still for Philippe Saint-Andre’s side to generate momentum.
Saint-Andre does have a decent record at Twickenham, having steered Sale to a Premiership title here in 2006 and touched down the finest visiting try scored there in 1991. His captain, Dusautoir, also stresses that France, on their worst Six Nations streak since 1958, will not lack motivation.
“Twickenham is a temple of rugby. Very few French players know what it’s like to win here. It would be great to join that group. We’ve always had the ability to raise our game for Le Crunch. This is a match that can define your career. I hope to be talking tomorrow about why the French team is a paradox.” A more probable scenario is a rousing England win by around seven points.
England v France How they’ ll line out
Yoann Huget (Toulouse)
Vincent Clerc (Toulouse)
Mathieu Bastareaud (Toulon)
Wesley Fofana (Clermont)
Benjamin Fall (Racing Metro)
Francois Trinh-Duc (Montpellier)
Morgan Parra (Clermont)
Thomas Domingo (Clermont)
Benjamin Kayser (Clermont)
Nicolas Mas (Perpignan)
Christophe Samson (Castres)
Yoann Maestri (Toulouse)
Yannick Nyanga (Toulouse)
Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse, capt)
Louis Picamoles (Toulouse)
Replacements: D Szarzewski (Racing Metro), V Debaty (Clermont), L Ducalcon (Racing Metro), J Suta (Toulon), A Claassen (Castres), M Machenaud (Racing Metro), F Michalak (Toulon), F Fritz (Toulouse).
(Saracens) Alex Goode
(Saracens) Chris Ashton
(Leicester) Manu Tuilagi
(Saracens) Brad Barritt
(Harlequins) Mike Brown
(Saracens) Owen Farrell
(Leicester) Ben Youngs
(Harlequins) Joe Marler
(Northampton) Dylan Hartley
(Leicester) Dan Cole
(Wasps) Joe Launchbury
(Northampton) Courtney Lawes
(Harlequins, capt) Chris Robshaw
(Leicester) Geoff Parling
(Northampton) Tom Wood
Replacements: Tom Youngs (Leicester), D Wilson (Bath), M Vunipola (Saracens), J Haskell (Wasps), T Waldrom (Leicester), D Care (Harlequins), T Flood (Leicester), B Twelvetrees (Gloucester).
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)