Scotland 23, Ireland 20
Wales 33, Italy 10
This could be a great game. If France play with the verve and enthusiasm they showed against Italy, that in itself will be a boon and make the game worth watching. If England decide that quick ball and variation are a possibility with a flyhalf with ideas and a fullback who attacks, it could be a sublime game, one to record and keep.
Paul Dobson – Rugby365
On the other hand if France get embroiled in a battle up front and playing safety-first to ensure Le Chelem, while England stay plodding drays instead of racing horses, it could be another game to forget.
Can England shake off their plodding ways? After all Danny Care is still at scrumhalf to ensure that fast ball becomes slow ball which he passes to a prop to produce yet another slow ball while he waits and looks around for a lock to pass to so as to produce yet another slow ball – for a tedious 80 minutes.
Then they have brought back the old war horse Mike Tindall from grazing in semiretired pastures and thrust him into battle, presumably to “look after” massive Mathieu Bastareaud. That is an ominous sign. Tindall, for all his courage, is not an outside centre to set the game alight and if he has been chosen to bring down Bastareaud it is also an ominous sign that England are more intent on what the French will be doing than of creating for themselves.
If the truth be told it’s hard to see how England can win the match. France will more than just contain them up front, France will win the battle for the loose ball and then France, starting with Morgan Parra and ending Clément Poitrenaud have much the superior set of backs – in every position – much. Maybe, just matybe enthusiastic, fearless Lewis Moody can breathe life into the dull side.
The most interesting part of the contest may well be a tight forward. It’s hard to imagine that France will not dominate the scrums with England’s wobbly front row which in its last match fell down seven times in six scrums, producing six resets. That was irritatingly dull viewing. France on the other hand scrummed well against the strong Italians. Both sides did well at line-outs. But what about the loose forwards?
England have two plodders and speedy Lewis Moody with his penchant for giving away penalties. France have athletic Imanol Harinordoquy, relentless Thierry Dusautoir and industrious, mobile Julien Bonnaire. The French seem to have a loose trio more likely to suit a game played quickly.
Then go down the back lines man for man and unit for unit and you wonder how on earth England came close, save only for the spirit of the bulldog breed. Mind you the “new” flyhalf Toby Flood may just find it in his heart to let Riki Flutey have the ball. The strong New Zealander has had an anonymous Six Nations. And then England may be playing with three attackers this time rather than seven defenders. They have Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Toby Flood who could just have the freedom of spirit to attack.
Goal-kicking? Morgan Parra has been great with his metronomic left boot and may just give the French the better option, especially of the game is mostly in English territory.
But it may be above all confidence which could produce the thrill and the victory. The French have proved they have a team to beat the best in the world while England must be nervous, their last performance their worst.
Players to watch:
For France: Start at fullback Clément Poitrenaud on the French side and work your way down the list and they are all worth watching. Poitrenaud is the inform fullback in the Six Nations, playing with confidence and adventurous skill. You would want to watch Marc Andreu, lively, perky, fast, who had a wonderful match against Italy. And you would watch multi-talented, young Morgan Parra at scrumhalf. You would also notice Imanol Harinordoquy who uses his height so effectively and also worth watching are the skill, strength and industry of hooker William Servat. Then there is the captain Thierry Dusautoir, tackling, running, fetching – a great player.
For England: You would watch Ben Foden, new boy Chris Ashton and Toby Flood in the hope that they can spark something.
Head to Head: Mathieu Bastareaud (France) against Mike Tindall (England), young mastodon against ageing war horse François Trinh-Duc against Toby Flood, both talented flyhalves who could excite. There will be, as there always is, a battle between the scrumhalves – Danny Care (England) with his short fuse and Morgan Parra (France) who does not stand back either, The there is the contest between the two sets of locks – Simon Shaw and Louis Deacon of England against Lionel Nallet and lively Julien Pierre of France.
Results this century
2009: England won 34-10 at Twickenham
2008: England won 24-13 at Stade de France
2007: England won 14-9 at Stade de France
2007: France won 22-9 in Marseille
2007: France won 21-15 at Twickenham
2007: England won 26-18 at Twickenham
2006: France won 31-6 at Stade de France
2005: France won 18-17 at Twickenham
2004: France won 24-21 at Stade de France
2003: England won 24-7 at Stadium Australia, Sydney
2003: England won 45-14 at Twickenham
2003: France won 17-16 in Marseille
2003: England won 25-7 at Twickenham
2002: France won 20-15 at Stade de France
2001: England won 48-19 at Twickenham
Prediction: It depends how France chose to play it – with verve and elan, or with a constipating fear of losing in their souls. If it is with elan they should win by 15 or more; if it is with fear, France should win by 10 or more.
France: 15 Clement Poitrenaud, 14 Marc Andreu, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Yannick Jauzion, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5 Julien Pierre, 4 Lionel Nallet, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Thomas Domingo
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Jean-Baptiste Poux, 18 Sébastien Chabal, 19 Alexandre Lapandry, 20 Dimitri Yachvili, 21 David Marty, 22 Julien Malzieu
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Mark Cueto, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Riki Flutey, 11 Chris Ashton, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody (captain), 6 Joe Worsley, 5 Louis Deacon, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Tim Payne
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 David Wilson, 18 Tom Palmer, 19 James Haskell, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Mathew Tait
Date: Saturday, March 20
Kick-off: 20.45 (19.45 GMT)
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Expected weather conditions: Heavy rain showers during the day, calming down to light rain in the evening. High 16°C; low 10°C
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Simon McDowell (Ireland)
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (Wales)