Fascinating, challenging and dynamic. This was the view of 2019 I shared in my opening…Read more
The lowdown on 'Le Crunch'
We asked John Mitchell, the former New Zealand head coach and England assistant under Sir Clive Woodward, to give us his five key areas.
France v England isn’t known as Le Crunch for nothing. It is one of the fiercest, most passionate and compelling fixtures on the rugby calendar.
It will be no different this year, with England bidding for a first Grand Slam since 2003 while France will still be bristling after finishing bottom of last year’s Championship.
So where will the game be won and lost?
1. Weathering the storm
Expect the French to come out firing and for the crowd to be at its most intimidating.
England number 8, Billy Vunipola, got a taste of things to come when Saracens visited Toulouse in the Heineken Cup earlier this month.
“The crowd got on our backs and we couldn’t get them off,” he remembers, with a wince.
Mitchell says: “France will be highly motivated and will expect to dominate immediately.
“If they do, then game over. England have to be prepared to outlast them and then they will get frustrated and go away.”
2. Forward battle
England face a big, experienced pack, containing the likes of Louis Picamoles and skipper Pascal Pape.
Mitchell says the “arm wrestle” up front will be absolutely key.
“England have always built their success on forward power,” he said. “I like the fact they are developing a core of experience with Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Dan Cole and Dylan Hartley.
“That was what we developed during my time with England and is what won them the World Cup in 2003.”
3. England’s midfield maestros
England coach Stuart Lancaster will be hoping the new centre partnership of Billy Twelvetrees and Luther Burrell can provide the key to unlocking the best defences.
They face the imposing French midfield combo of Wesley Fofana and Mathieu Bastareaud but Twelvetrees has creativity and distribution skills, while Burrell is an explosive runner.
Mitchell says: “England need players who can break the gainline and Burrell could be the man.”
4. Fofana factor
France have been unusually pedestrian under coach Philippe Saint-Andre, but Fofana gives them an X-factor.
He is elusive, fast and creative – basically a nightmare for defenders. Stop him and England will cut off France’s main attacking threat.
Mitchell says: “France have been smart in picking Fofana at inside centre and not on the wing, as he will affect the game more there.
“France had one of their best games in a long time at Twickenham last year [England won 23-13] and Fofana was key.”
5. Unearthing a gem
England’s backline has an average age of 24 and just 13 caps per man.
Winger Jack Nowell and Burrell both win their first caps and how they perform could be key to England’s present and future.
Mitchell says: “With the World Cup next year, it’s all about building an experienced side and then hoping you discover one or two special players.
“This side is developing a core and the new guys could add some star quality.”