Key Clash Preview: France v England

Date: 11/3/12
Kickoff: 15:00
Venue: Stade de France
Referee: Alain Rolland


A tale of two halves last week for Phillipe Saint-André’s developing side. Attempting to play with width against an Irish side who slowed the game down time after time with the choke tackle, that rapid ball we saw against Scotland disappeared. By going wide, they were pummelled up front. When they decided to keep it tight, using their power, bringing on William Servat, it clicked and the points came. This weekend, perhaps they will get their styles of play the right way round.


On the losing side but much improved against Wales, England looked like they had found a combination from 1-15 to move forward with long-term. Although tryless, the midfield duo of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi had the ideal balance of defensive nous and attacking threat. Geoff Parling’s grace and Mouritz Botha’s brute force combined surprisingly well for a first run out. With Owen Farrell at 10, England have the solution until George Ford truly, and finally, emerges. The scrum will have to be much improved, the lineout remain excellent, and England’s perhaps uncredited defence remain firing.

What to Expect:

Real power from France in the scrum. Alex Corbisiero was excellent against Nicolas Mas a year ago and so he must be once more, with Botha giving him the support to hold level if not drive forward. France will plan to pin England deep and then apply the pressure through the boots of new half-back duo Julien Dupuy and Lionel Beauxis, an uninspiring but potentially effective game plan. If England can keep level in the power stakes, with the odd burst from Ben Morgan or Tuilagi getting them beyond the gain line, then chances will come.

All Eyes On: Dimitri Szarzewski & Chris Ashton

Occasionally much maligned by France critics, Szarzewski’s accuracy in the lineout last weekend saw France win 11 lineouts on their ball. The problem lies in the loose, where outshone by his replacement Servat, the Stade Français hooker has failed to produce the rampaging bursts that used to be his trademark. If France are to truly win this game by power and power alone, then he must come to the fore.

Ashton on the other hand is in a funny situation. Speaking in Monday’s interview, the winger commented that the lack of ball he received in the first two matches made excelling impossible, while against Wales the chances were more frequent yet unexecuted. Whether he listens to external criticism or not, Charlie Sharples can only produce so many outstanding performances for Gloucester before he must be picked. A 16th try in 22 tests would be the perfect remedy.

Head to Head: Julien Dupuy v Lee Dickson

Perhaps a better kicker than he is an actual scrum-half, Julien Dupuy has returned from international wilderness under Saint-André, preferred to Dimitri Yachvili initially from the bench and now from the starting line-up. The emphasis will be on him to box kick accurately as well as provide Beauxis with a clean platform, though he is prone to the occasional snipe from the fringes. Interesting to see how he handles coming in for such an important game.

Lee Dickson on the other hand had a solid if not excellent first start against Wales, finding the tempo difficult to control as he had from the bench in the first two games. That is more a testament to the work from Wales at the breakdown as much as anything, but with Ben Youngs putting in a good performance last weekend for Leicester and his brother Karl waiting in the wings, this is Dickson’s moment to really make the shirt his own. All that is asked from him is quick delivery, composure, and to never let his backs or pack fail to hear his voice.


There’s the dream and the reality. England could sneak a win in Paris if they match the French power game for long enough, but it will have to be for 80 minutes given the quality of the French bench, the one area where Ireland came undone last week. Score early and France get nervous. But it’s finding a way to break through. No one doubts it will be tight. Nerves will be frayed. France by 6.

by Ben Coles

12 thoughts on “Key Clash Preview: France v England

  1. The massive bone of contention that was the discussion over my copious lunch here in Paris was the non-selection of Yachvili, who is fit and played well for Biarritz last week. The rumour, strong at that, is that Patrice Lagisquet, with a foot in both France and Biarritz camps currently, exerted pressure to not select Yachvili, allowing him to be a major influence on Biarritz’s relegation battle, which runs concurrently with the 6 a nations for the next two weeks.

    England will benefit this weekend, and I have to say that I have not got the faintest idea as to who will win this game. Head says France, heart says England, but both are making it a very close call.

    1. Very happy Yachvilli wasn’t selected. Him and Harinordiquoy have a really annoying habit of playing their best games of the season against England.

  2. Someone please point out what the French offer in attack? Changing the half back partnership only takes away from what little attacking threat they possessed. They won’t be able to sit back and counter against the English like they have done. If Dupuy or Beauxis begin to feel the pressure, I can see England giving their back line a goodl old battering. Whether the monsterous Maestri and co can be wrestled into submission (which I doubt) is yet to be seen. Botha will have his work cut out trying to be the enforcer on a field filled with enforcers wearing blue. Ben Morgan needs to build on his last performance as does Owen Farrell, both showed incredible potential.
    At last someone brings George Ford into the mix. If you watched him start in Leicesters LV cup tie, you may agree that its been a very long time since an 18 year old ran the show like that.
    One rant, why is Dowson and Stevens repeatedly picked for the bench? They’re both not going to make it to the world cup (quite simply because there are younger better guys already in the team). Why not stick young joe marler on the bench, or heaven above, start moulding an international 7. Matt Kvesic is an immensely physically impressive specimen for being under 20. He would benefit a lot more than Dowson, training and being on the bench. I’ll say it again, Brown is nothing more than a good club player. He should be dropped and someone younger who can cover more positions brought in such as, Sharples, May.

    1. – Fofana can create something from nothing with pace and footwork
      – Malzieu is a very clinical finisher
      – Clerc and Poitrenaud have pace (though I think Wolverine’s injury weakens the side)

      It’s not the most dangerous backline we’ll face this year, but certainly not impotent.

      I don’t know if Brown is only a good club player (similar criticisms were levelled at Botha and Barritt). I think his club form has earnt him a chance, we won’t find out if he can step up if he’s sitting on the bench, lets play him and decide. As you say we’ve got others coming through who are also overdue and soon to be due their opportunity, so having a bench spot taken by someone currently unproven just means we aren’t making the most of what should be an experimental phase.

  3. While we seem to be going on to discuss players not in the squad. Can I point out one potential natural left sided winger who could be a great shout for the not too distant future. James Short of Saracens has been on great form for the last two seasons. Scoring the only try in last seasons Premiership final, and time and again making yards out of nothing. A back three combination of Short, Sharples and May would really be something to watch in lovely white shirts displaying the Red Rose.

  4. I don’t think Short is quite there yet. He hasn’t made the shirt his down at Sarries and still faces competition from Wyles. I don’t know where May is going to fit, but he is’nt an out and out back three player. He prefers to play in the centre and thats where he came through gloucester academy playing. The amount of English talent that is coming through is surprising. I think the young Welsh lads get all the credit because they’re given a chance a lot earlier than England likes to cap a young hopeful.

    1. A fair point. Wyles offers something different and is a class player. I prefer Wyles at 15 personally, but with Goode as well, it’s difficult to leave either of them out.

      The problem with England at the moment though is we’re limited to playing wingers on the left who don’t look comfortable there. Strettle has played well, and I wonder if they should consider switching him to the left?

      I would like to see another option at 15 though. Whilst I like Foden, he can be a little one dimensional. Brown is very pacey, but totally unproven at top level. Until we see him get more time on the pitch, we’re not going to know if he can hack it or not.

  5. Just to pick up the point on Englands uncredited defence. Does anyone else think that Farrel snr should be kept on as defence coach even if it is part time ala Edwards when he was at Wasps?

    1. Farrell Snr is the backs coach. Also i don’t really think our defense is ‘uncredited’ every analysis of England’s 6N performances i’ve read has (rightly) complimented their defense.

      1. Yes I know he is the backs coach, but his remit includes defence. He has already stated that he wants to go back to Sarries after the 6N and considering his defensive efforts have thus far been more impressive than the attack I was just raising the possibility of Faz Snr staying on purely for defence whilst enabling him to keep his day job with Sarries, just as Edwards initially did.

  6. Excellent idea! I’d bet my two front teeth wayne smith would get the most out our young exciting backs if he signed on as attack coach as well. Some coaching set up, wig, faz, smith and either stu lancaster or nick mallet. Lancasters job hangs on the next two games. Can’t wait to see what sharples can do. Strettle is an excellent defender and kick chaser, while sharples plays more off the cuff.

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