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