France v England, Six Nations, March 11
Rowntree braced for fierce test
March 10, 2012
England assistant coach Graham Rowntree is wary of the challenge posed by title-chasing France © Getty Images
England forwards coach Graham Rowntree has steeled his men for 80 minutes of "ultimate combat" in Sunday's Six Nations clash with France in Paris.
Twenty years ago, France had Gregoire Lascube and Vincent Moscato sent off for a stamp and a head-butt respectively as hostilities boiled over at the Parc des Princes. Former England hooker Brian Moore used to relish winding up the Les Bleus before the match and the England-France internationals never lacked ferocity.
Although the game has been cleaned to a large extent, the need for that ferocity remains. And Rowntree is confident the England forwards are ready for the challenge of matching an imposing French pack, anchored by Perpignan tight-head prop Nicolas Mas.
"England against France is a long-standing rivalry at club and international level," Rowntree said. "As a forward, it is ultimate combat against a French pack. France in France, with that crowd behind them, fantastic.
"They bring a special intensity. The game is cleaner now but more physical. You can't be stood fighting because you should be somewhere else making a tackle. I was explaining to Chris (Robshaw, the England captain) about the atmosphere. When they sing the anthem the occasion is fantastic and we are ready for this now."
As if the size of the challenge needed emphasising, Rowntree won six caps during his England career against France and only ever tasted victory on one occasion. Two years ago, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole were replaced at half-time after England failed to cope with a French scrummaging onslaught led by Mas.
Both front rowers have spoken this week about that experience, how it has remained etched in the memory and that tomorrow is a chance for redemption. Rowntree believes the England pack has improved game on game during the Six Nations, although they were given a difficult time in the first 20 minutes by Wales.
The lineout has also improved significantly with the selection for Geoff Parling in the second and Rowntree is excited by what lies in store for his pack. "This has come at the perfect time and it is a big challenge. Our lads have shown courage and we will see that tomorrow," Rowntree said. "We have been developing nicely. Every game we have been getting better. It is a step up for our forwards. It is a big challenge but we are ready."
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