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VIDEO – Lancaster sets scene for France clash

18 February 2013

  • Lancaster heaps praise on strength of French side
  • The battle up front will be key, says the England head coach 

Head Coach Stuart Lancaster is remaining cautious about England’s chances against France on Saturday as he believes there are far too many good players in the French side to write them off.

England go into the match at Twickenham as the only unbeaten team in the RBS 6 Nations, taking two wins from their matches against Scotland and Ireland. Conversely, pre-tournament favourites France head into the clash on course for a potential wooden spoon as the only side yet to get a point following two losses to Italy and Wales.

While the French have not been firing on all cylinders in this year’s tournament, Lancaster is well aware of their potential and knows that they are a huge threat to England’s chances of Grand Slam glory.

“They went to Italy and played against a very strong side and as we found last year in that Stadio Olimpico it’s a difficult place to go,” he said.  “Not getting off to a start put the team under pressure and then they played the Grand Slam champions [Wales] at home and it was 6-6 until the last five minutes so they will be very disappointed to lose that. It was a game they definitely could have won.

“It was not that long ago they were beating Australia by 30 odd points and the week after Australia beat us. There are too many good players in the French side for people to write them off so for us it’s about making sure we get our mentality right and our physicality and everything else that goes with our game because it’s going to be a big battle on Saturday.”

Physicality has been a key tenet to England’s performances under Lancaster. Against New Zealand, the side forced 21 turnovers, with the likes of centre Brad Barritt and flanker Chris Robshaw getting 39 tackles in total between them. In the opening RBS 6 Nations match against Scotland, back row Tom Wood hit 45 breakdowns, with several other players hitting over 35 and making over ten tackles. It was the same story against Ireland, with seven players getting a 100 per cent tackle success rate and several hitting over 20 breakdowns.

Tom Wood led from the front against Scotland

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The current England team wants physicality to be a point of difference for both the forwards and backs, which in turn has led to opportunities for fly half Owen Farrell, who has kicked 30 points in two games, to flourish with the boot.

Historically France have used big packs to their advantage and have used a combination of brute force up front with attacking fluidity in the backs.  In this year’s RBS 6 Nations France have only lost two scrums out of 17 and Lancaster knows the physical matchup will be a game-decider against the French and is expecting a big performance from his forwards.

“They are big men, they have a very big heavy pack, a very good line out. I think they have won more lineout ball than anyone. They have caused more problems defensively than anyone, their discipline has been very good with an average penalty count of seven, so as a team they are going to be difficult to break down and it will be won and lost up front so our pack has got a very big game on their hands.”

Reflecting on the 12-6 win over Ireland in tough wet conditions, Lancaster reckons that the team will be able to kick-on and hopes that good weather will play a part in maintaining England’s eight year unbeaten record against the French at Twickenham.

“It was pleasing to get the win in Ireland,” he said. “If I had looked out of the window and seen a day like today I would have been happy to be honest, but the reality is in rugby is we don’t have roofs on all our stadiums and when it's pouring down with rain and freezing cold so there’s only one type of game .To get out of that arm wrestle and win that game in Ireland which is a difficult place to go is really pleasing. It’s nice to have the thought of going back to Twickenham and the fast track we have got there and hopefully the weather will stay set all week.”