Key Clash Preview: England v France

Taking all the tabloid talk out of it, both England and France have had pretty dire World Cup campaigns so far. Both need a win this weekend to be able to return home with some of their dignity intact, but with changes in the wrong places for England and a French team who are as consistently inconsistent as ever, which of the two is likely to come out on top?

Date: 8th October 2011
Time: 8.30pm NZDT/8.30am BST
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Steve Walsh (Aus)


Last week’s win over Scotland was nothing to celebrate as England were sloppy across the park. Jonny Wilkinson had a shocker and, although his kicks were from difficult angles, we are too used to seeing him achieve the impossible it is implausible that the man missed so many shots at goal. Matt Stevens is the luckiest man in the world after retaining his jersey as he haemorrhaged penalties at scrum time last week – he needs a monumental game against the aggressive French front row.

The introduction of Toby Flood at inside centre will hopefully generate a little more attacking fluidity and someone made a very valid point on the comments underneath the team selection on The Rugby Blog that this is exactly how Flood began his career as an understudy to Wilkinson. Finally, the fact Deacon and Moody are starting is not right as they are not the in-form players in their positions, but I’m sure the French won’t look forward to seeing the likes of Lawes and Haskell coming off the bench.


Where to start. After what was one of the worst performances from the French I have ever seen last weekend, Les Bleus have scrapped through to the final eight. Much has been made about the feelings inside the camp, with Marc Lievremont trying to control his own little microcosm of a revolution from some players. However, clear the air talks have apparently been held, so we will find out on Saturday if they are back to their best. The Parra experiment continues at fly half and although it remains a little bit of a strange choice, it gives them options if Yachvilli goes missing at the break down. Harinordoquy’s inclusion gives the team both experience and go-forward. The back three are as exciting as usual but it will need to get through their centres and they have a strong pack which will look to bully England around the park.

What to expect:

Martin Johnson is clearly looking to play this game through the forwards with the option of sending it wide late on. It’s boring rugby but, from his stand point, he feels it will help us grind out a win. France will be looking to maintain their composure, play through the phases before releasing their back three. Everyone is saying the French have nothing to lose but that is not the case at all. They are very proud and will not want to go home to a media who are baying for blood.

All Eyes On:

The Wilkinson and Flood combination will be critical when it comes to using England’s advantage. It’s almost as if the team has been split, with Wilkinson likely to play fly half when the forwards are putting in the hard yards, and Flood stepping in when they look to release their backs. If it works, Johnson will be praised, if not, more questions will be asked as to why he only brought one credible inside centre.
France need Parra to perform. No team can fully function without a fly half who can control the game properly. Regardless if he is playing out of position or not, he needs a big game, especially with the likes of Tuilagi running down his channel all day.

Head-to-head: Croft, Moody, Easter v Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy

I’ve cheated here, but I don’t care. The breakdown will be where this game, as usual, is won and lost. If England can disturb Yachvilli’s distribution through these three men then it will mean France constantly have difficulty crossing the gain line. It would have been nicer to see Haskell and Wood instead of Moody and Easter, but such is the way with Johnno. As for France, Harinordoquy is one of those players who helps you find an extra few yards when they are needed and although Dusautoir was, and remains, a fitness doubt, he is a unit who brings so much to the break down. The rucks do not only include these six players, but they will dictate how much of it goes.

Last fixture: England 17-9 France, 26th February, 2011. Twickenham, England.

Weather Forecast: Rain (it’s New Zealand, what do you expect!)


This is so hard to call because, as clichéd and as repetitive as it may have become, no one, not even the French, can predict which side will turn up. I imagine they will want to up their game after a humiliating loss to Tonga, but there is the danger of overdoing it which leads to forced passed etc. If they don’t turn up it is proof that Lievremont has truly lost them. England need to get points on the board early to in an effort to throw the French off their game. If they can keep it tight and keep it disciplined however, I can’t see anything more than an England win. England by four points.

by Nick Winn

21 thoughts on “Key Clash Preview: England v France

  1. Really can’t call this. The French worry me as I just do not know what team will turn up

    Do disagree with you on wanting Haskell over Easter though. Haskell is not a number 8 and this was clearly demonstrated last weekend when he utterly failed to control the ball at the back of a number of scrums

    England looked far more controlled and solid once Easter came on. Also, Easter constantly makes small gains close to rucks and mauls which help to get England onto the front foot. Haskell tends to hang around in mid-field and against better teams, can get driven backwards

    In the absence of players like Narraway or Dowson, Easter is still our best choice

    I would prefer Haskell over Moody though and Wood on the bench for Shaw – Easter and Croft can cover second row if necessary but if one of the back-row

  2. If they key clash is at the breakdown, England is going to have to step up massively as I see this a weak area for them. But given France’s performance thus far, it could be next week’s problem.

  3. Have we really had a dire world cup? We have not played well that much is clear but I’m not sure you could say that 4 from 4 is dire?

    Regardsless I have had to have a nervous poo already, my fingernails haven’t recovered from last weekend and I just can’t call this one. I think it’s going to be brutal and if Les Cuisses de Grenouilles (thats frogs legs) turn up they have the fire power in both back three’s to put us to the sword. Had we had Wood, Corbs and Lawes on and a bench of Hartley, Stevens, Haskell, Shaw, Flutey, Sinbad/Sharples & Simpson then I would be slightly more confident.

    I think that Nelsons words should be ringing in the boys ears tomorrow morning “England espects every man to do his duty!”.

  4. i think it has to be all about the early points.

    If England can get some penalties on the board (or ideally a try like Lewsey’s in the last World Cup), it could be the cue for the French tio start blaming each other again and hopefully to begin to fall apart

    I reckon its worth employing Brian Moore and Dallaglio to stand at the edge of the tunnel and insult the French as they run out

  5. Really surprised to see Haskell dropped – someone who, in my view, has played a blinder this World Cup. Personally, I would have completely rejigged the front row (Matt Stevens, as you say, must be the luckiest man alive to have kept his place after last week’s appalling work).

    Glad to see ol’ Mike “Twinkle Toes” Tindall is out – although he’s a decent enough player, I just don’t see enough dynamism in his play. England by 4 is a good shout but I think we’ll have to win by more to boost player confidence going into the semis.

  6. Nick I agree with you completely about Haskell and Wood. In a game where the breakdown will be key, we have picked the slowest number eight we could find. As someone else here pointed out, he does control scrums and mauls better than Haskell, but he’s just not quick enough around the park. How is it that Wood doesn’t even make the bench instead of Shaw???????

    As for the Wilko and Flood combo, I think it’s a great idea. The big question is who will be taking the kicks. I would suspect it will be Wilko, but personally I think if he starts, but misses the first two, then Flood has to take over. But I guess that is a call that moody will have to make.

    I don’t think just trying to upset France at the breakdown is enough though. We saw Scotland last week just trying to upset everything England did, but when Scotland had the ball, they didn’t seem like they had a plan to do anything with it, and inevitably it lost them the game. We can’t make that mistake against France. We need a game plan once we’ve upset the French breakdown, and won the ball, otherwise we could be going home.

  7. Nick, you are off the mark in your review. Scotland game was dire first half, agreed, but the marked improvement in the second (including how Stevens finally managed to get some traction) shows immense character as well as fighting spirit and an ability to radically change the game; 3 invaluable commodities in a world cup scrap. The French also really don’t have nothing to lose but everything to gain. A loss to England is easier to take than a loss to Tonga, the French press are going to roast them anyway….. but if they win…all will be forgiven.

    Back row area is key though as you point out and the biggest omission is Wood by a long stretch and also for this game, Shaw should be starting. Wood should come on in the second half with Croft moving into second row to partner Lawes (who needs to front up big time) when Shaw runs out of puff. Most of us here at least seem to think that Easter is just not up to the grade at the moment and hasn’t played for effectively three weeks so will not be game sharp. When all said and done though…COME ON YOU BUGGERS!!!!!!!!!!!! England win 25 – 20….fingers toes arms and even teeth and elbows crossed……

  8. Haskell is not a no. 8, simple as that. He IS a phenomenally talented athlete and has played well as a loose forward, but what has happened to English back row forwards being able to think rather than run around as headless chickens and I include Moody in this. That’s why Easter is in. Not that I think he’s a brilliant No. 8 – he’s OK, but we don’t really have anyone else sticking their hands up at present.

    From most of the blogs I’ve read, pretty much everyone agrees that Corbisiero should be in instead of Stevens and Wood should be on the bench. Too late now!

    Really looking forward to it, but just realised that I have to take my son to his football match at 9.15am – SERIOUSLY GUTTED. What does everyone think of my chances of making it back home without finding out the result?! No hope or Bob Hope!

  9. Staggy I was contemplating having a line in and then watching the game on Sky plus but the problem is that you know the result is out there and even if you get home without finding out you will not be able to sit through the 80mins without checking the final score, I you can I am very impressed!

    1. It’s like reading a book – I don’t want to read the last page before the rest of it as it spoils the tension. I can resist that, as long as I can avoid hearing the result.

      My old man once taped a crucial six nations match for me and I avoided hearing the result for 24 hours by not watching the TV, listening to the radio, etc. Got to his house to pick it up and he said – “Fantastic game, goes right down to the wire but your not going to like the result” – Thanks dad!! Hopefully I can avoid it this time!

      1. Cant believe your dad did that!

        You guys are right, re haskell, shame wood hasnt made it,hes class.

        Game plan will hopefully involve sending Tuilagi at Parra all evening!

        1. He didn’t mean to – it just blurted out – bless him.

          I agree that the channel to attack is Parra’s – maybe Ashton off the wing – it would be nice to get the ball to him in the first 59 minutes this time. I have to say that it’s typical that when we’ve got as talented back 4 as I can ever remember us having, what are we going to do – stuff it up our forward pack jumpers and kick for the corners.

          I hope to be proved wrong, although changing our style didn’t work too well for us in the 1991 final!

  10. There is an argument that Johnny/Flood is our best 10/12, in this squad, given that Tindall & Hape are battering rams but not exactly blessed with finesse. Would have been good to test this earlier, but I suppose given that we had lost one captain, why drop your second?

    From a bench perspective, not sure that only having Wigglesworth & Banahan as options in the backs is the best idea. I know that Banahan can play centre & wing, but I would have been more comfortable with Hape in there to shore up the defence if needs be.

  11. Ed H – Amen to your that. I’d love to know why Hape is not on the bench. Why not put Hape and Simpson (can play on the wing and has serious pace) on the bench and drop BanaRAM altogether. He has proved to be completely ineffective in everything he does.

      1. Banana ram more like!

        Not a fan of his but he’s there because he can cover more positions, simple as that.

  12. I suppose this depends whether the French players want an early flight home or not , last weekend it looked like they had booked the coach to the airport straight from the stadium.

    Englands worry must be that having based their World Cup on a powerful bruising pack and a normally 99% per cent accurate kicker that they came off second best in the forward exchanges against both Argentina and Scotland and Wilkinson seems to be having a mid life crises to do with the ball.

    Scotland and Argentina were too limited in the backs to make the most of their chances whereas the same cannot be said of the French.

    England should win it but beware the one FRench blinder from nowhere which they tend to bring to World Cups usually against a team in black , England aren’t wearing that away kit are they ……….

    1. The colour of the kit could be more critical than anything else here. Let’s hope we’re playing in white!

      1. All blacks were All grey when they lost to France! England are playing dull grey rather than brilliant white at the moment is that an omen?

  13. Just why isnt corbs starting, i dont understand, stevens was brought untested and has been poor where as corbs had an excellent six nations when thrown in the deep end due to injurys and he also happens to be amuch better player than stevens.
    Second row should be lawes and palmer, lawes as indisaplined as he can be is going to be one of englands greatest ever locks and palmer is class, deacon has currently had an average tournament and shaw is now an impact player who should be brought on to steady the ship.
    The back three is a hard pick, haskell as good as he is, is simply not an 8 and cannot play there against serious opposition, at least yet, wood is also good but even on form you cannot drop your captain as even when moody is playing jusy ok his presence and energy picks up everyones game around him.
    Flood and wilko should be a good partniship so long as the get the ball without youngs mucking up again, as he had a shocker last week.
    Simply what we need is not all this foreward play as everyone thinks its incicive backs play with breaks from flood and manu with a winger on his shoulder then supported by quick mobolising forwards.
    Ashton currently leading try scorer this world with 6 and cueto one match 3 tries so give them the ball for more than 3 touches like chris ashton last match and we’ll score.
    Lastly we need to use manu more yes the opposition allways expected but he’ll still get iver the gain line and might break through and youngs needs to break more. (rant over)

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