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.”