- Attacking threat of France should be taken seriously says Haskell
- England should be willing to adapt style to quash French flair
James Haskell has warned that an emotional and unpredictable France can “beat any team in the world” on their day and that England should underestimate them on Saturday at their peril.
The 27-year-old back row, who started his first game of the tournament in England’s 12-6 win over Ireland, is more qualified than most when speaking about the French threat having spent two years at Stade Francais from 2009-11.
Phillipe Saint-Andre's side are currently bottom of the RBS 6 Nations after losing to Italy and Wales, while England are the only team in the running for a Grand Slam this year after wins over Scotland and Ireland. But despite England’s strong start this year and an impressive record at home against the France - the last loss was in 2005 - Haskell said the enduring quality in French rugby remains strong.
“They are a very emotional race and very passionate people,” said Haskell. “Being over in Stade Francais, some weeks the whole team would train amazingly well and then play terrible on the weekend and then some weeks they would drop balls, about 20 a session, and then beat Toulouse away so you never know what you are going to get.”
“But all you know is that the quality of French players is right up there. They are big physical people and they have got that “X Factor” ability about them and when they galvanise and when they go they can beat anyone in the world. It’s very difficult to prepare for that and you have got to spend time focusing on yourself as a team and stop worrying too much about them.”
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Haskell has been a veritable rugby globetrotter over the past four years, playing not only in France, but also Japan and New Zealand before returning to London Wasps this season. After re-establishing his international career on the summer tour to South Africa, Haskell then became an impact sub in both the QBE Internationals against The Springboks and New Zealand in the autumn. And despite again being used as a replacement against Scotland his physical presence was felt when he came on.
Against The Scots he played 35 minutes, made ten tackles (joint fourth), hit 16 breakdowns and made six carries. He then topped the carrying statistics against Ireland with seven (despite being off the field for 10 minutes with a yellow card) and was a key physical presence in repelling wave after wave of Irish runners.
The physical battle against France is a main focus for Stuart Lancaster’s men and Haskell believes that they will have to be willing to put their bodies on the line and adapt to the style of play the French bring.
“You know the things that the French teams bring, the physicality, which is obviously driven by that emotional passion,” he said. “You have to play a certain type of way against them. You can’t play a loose game against them as they have got the back three that can attack from anywhere and they have handling skills and offload ability which means that getting your tacking right and getting spot on defence has to be key.
“Because of that unpredictability you know they are not going to play to a set pattern, so it’s about watching the way they play, quickly adjusting to that and making sure everyone stays alive, so if you fall off a tackle and someone gets an offload away then you know they will have someone on their shoulder.”