- Get up to speed on when, where and how to watch France England
- Read about the key battles and quotes from each camp
Only a final-quarter resurgence from the all-conquering All Blacks stopped a clean-sweep for England in November’s QBE Internationals and, although injuries have mounted up considerably, there is a sense of optimism surrounding Stuart Lancaster’s set-up heading into the RBS 6 Nations.
Debutants Luther Burrell and Jack Nowell in the backline – as well as precocious Gloucester Rugby flyer Jonny May and in-form Danny Care – points to an ambitious, fast-paced approach and England’s last trip over the Channel brought a sensational 24-22 victory. Another success tomorrow would make it three consecutive triumphs over Les Bleus.
Photo: Getty Images
Phillipe Saint-André has given more substance to the custom of Gallic unpredictability by forming the tenth halfback partnership of his two year-tenure, picking Test rookie Jules Plisson at fly half alongside stocky Toulouse number nine Jean-Marc Doussain. However, despite a disastrous 2013 that saw two wins over Scotland and Tonga – plus the absence of their talismanic captain Thierry Dusautoir – the consistent, muscular displays of French clubs in the Heineken Cup are ominous for Lancaster.
With six forwards among the replacements and 120-kilogram cannonball Mathieu Bastareaud in midfield, the hosts are likely to adopt a narrow, punchy approach. We are set for an especially abrasive version of Le Crunch.
When? Saturday, February 1
Where? Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off? 5pm GMT
How to keep up with the action
- Live on BBC 1 from 4.30pm. Regular updates on BBC Five Live
- Live text commentary on the free RFU iPhone app (search iTunes for Official RFU)
- Live score updates from @EnglandRugby on Twitter
- Match report, post-match interviews and highlights on RFU.com
France: 15. Brice Dulin, 14. Yoann Huget, 13. Mathieu Bastareaud, 12. Wesley Fofana, 11. Maxime Medard, 10. Jules Plisson, 9. Jean-Marc Doussain; 1. Thomas Domingo, 2. Benjamin Kayser, 3. Nicolas Mas, 4. Alexandre Flanquart, 5. Pascal Pape, 6. Yannick Nyanga, 7. Bernard Le Roux, 8. Louis Picamole (captain).
Replacements: 16. Dimitri Szarzewski, 17. Yannick Forestier, 18. Rabah Slimani, 19. Yoann Maestri, 20. Antoine Burban, 21. Damien Chouly, 22. Maxime Machenaud , 23. Gael Fickou.
England: 15. Mike Brown, 14. Jack Nowell, 13. Luther Burrell, 12. Billy Twelvetrees, 11. Jonny May, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Danny Care; 1. Joe Marler, 2. Dylan Hartley, 3. Dan Cole, 4. Joe Launchbury, 5. Courtney Lawes, 6. Tom Wood, 7. Chris Robshaw (captain), 8. Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16. Tom Youngs, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Henry Thomas, 19. Dave Attwood, 20. Ben Morgan, 21. Lee Dickson, 22. Brad Barritt, 23. Alex Goode.
- February 2013: England 23-13 France, Twickenham
- March 2012: France 22-24 England, Stade de France
- October 2011: England 12-19 France, Auckland (Rugby World Cup quarter-final)
- February 2011: England 17-9 France, Twickenham
- March 2010: France 12-10 England, Stade de France
Photo: Getty Images
Midfield mayhem: Wesley Fofana and burly Bastareaud epitomise the traditional cut-and-thrust contrast of centre pairings. One possesses electric pace and lightning footwork, the other is a veritable battering ram. Opposite them are the ball-playing Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell, making his maiden foray onto the biggest stage. After an exceptional start to the season for Northampton Saints, he will be looking to bring his power and smart off-loading game to the party. This quartet should offer up a hugely intriguing subplot.
Aerial attack: Any wing partnership with one Test cap between them is bound to get some attention early on, so expect May and Nowell to be bombarded with high balls, with both Yoann Huget and Maxime Medard harrying in pursuit. Themselves somewhat inexperienced at this level though, Doussain and Plisson could make mistakes from halfback. Overhit any clearances and they give Nowell and May space – a dangerous ploy.
French reinforcements: A six-two split in favour of forwards on his replacements bench provides a crystal-clear insight into how Saint-André wants to go about this game. Attrition is the name of Les Bleus' game, and England's back row will have to be energetic for the entire 80 minutes. Care's role in speeding the game up to make France's bigger men uncomforable is also crucial.
Quotes from the camps
Phillipe Saint-André (France Head Coach): "This is a fantastic event. There are people who don’t have a clue about rugby but each year they watch France against England. Every time it’s very special. It’s about more than sport. It’s about history.
"Now 2014 is very big for us and we don’t begin with a starter but the main course."
Graham Rowntree (England Forwards Coach): "Some of the highlights of my career were winning in France and that was both at club and international level.
"I have a lot of respect for them and there's no such thing as a weak French team, regardless of what happened last year. I have too much respect for them to believe that."
Did you know?
- Three backs are making their debuts in this game, but Phillipe Saint-André made his own maiden Test appearance for France in a 12-6 loss to Romania back in 1990
- Two years into his international career, Owen Farrell needs five points to pass the 200 mark for England
- This is the 98th edition of Le Crunch. England currently have 53 wins to France’s 32, while there have been 37 draws
- France centre Mathieu Bastareaud is a cousin of former Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur footballer William Gallas
- France have won the last four tournaments (1998, 2002*, 2006 and 2010*) to follow a British and Irish Lions tour (*denotes Grand Slam).