- Brad Barrritt talks about the challenges of Bastareaud and Fofana
- "We'll meet fire with fire and up our physicality" says Saracens centre
Brad Barritt’s polite manner off the field and ice-cool decision making on it masks a fiercely competitive outlook on the game.
Once considered too small for international rugby in some quarters, any highlights reel of Stuart Lancaster’s 14 games in charge of England features big hits from the 26-year-old on the likes of hard-running Ma’a Nonu and Jamie Roberts.
On Saturday at Twickenham unbeaten England host a France side with two losses from two; their worst start to a Six Nations tournament since 1982. But coming around the corner is huge centre Mathieu Bastareaud, a 110kg gain line bulldozer who has beaten more defenders (9) than anyone else in the 2013 RBS 6 Nations, despite only playing 100 minutes.
While Barritt is respectful of the abrasive qualities the RC Toulon man offers, he is bullish about how England will stop him, saying they have the tactics, technique and tenacity to do the job: “He’s a big physical presence in the midfield and crucial for their go-forward and the gain line battle,” said Barritt. “He’s a physical target runner for them so we’ll have to meet fire with fire and up our physicality.
“We pride ourselves on our two-man tackle focus. When you’ve got people coming at you, in the face of the line speed we are aiming to impose, it’s difficult for them to get any momentum. It will be about stopping his initial momentum and then putting in a big physical hit in.
"Two people in the contact, then doing a job at the breakdown and slowing their ball down. Everyone imposes themselves in a different ways, different players provide different obstacles to overcome and he will come hard and straight so we need to be as physical as we possibly can.”
Photo: Getty Images
Pertinent to the discussion of different players providing different obstacles, the conversation moved on to the more subtle talents of Wesley Fofana. The Clermont Auvergne star, who scored four tries in four games at centre in last season’s RBS 6 Nations, has been starved of possession on the wing for the opening two fixtures but reports suggest Philippe Saint Andre will restore him to his favoured role for the game at Twickenham.
Again Barritt refers to physicality as the way to stop the smooth running 25-year-old, making the point that England’s aim in defence is not just about achieving dominant hits, but also about getting up off the floor, back into a correctly-spaced line and ready for the next phase.
Fofana averages 91m with ball in hand for his club in the Heineken Cup this season and Barritt said: “He played last year against us at the Stade de France and has been playing very well for Clermont – he picks up space well and runs good lines.
“Again the physicality in our defence needs to make sure we are back up on our feet and cut off any options or triangles in our defence which could allow him to slip through.”
Although France will be suffering after the ignominy of the opening two rounds, Barritt asserts that their two defeats so far in the RBS 6 Nations does not make them a bad side. There may be quality players running at him on Saturday but he says England are rightly approaching the game with a combination of caution and confidence: “There’s a huge amount of confidence going forward, but as with every rugby game, you have to earn respect week-in-week-out.”