England v France, Six Nations, Twickenham, February 26
Crunch time at Twickenham
February 24, 2011
France coach Marc Lievremont hit the headlines in the lead up to the game © Getty Images
England and France will both be looking to keep their Six Nations Grand Slam dreams alive when they go head-to-head at Twickenham on Saturday.
The hosts have been in impressive form and enter the clash on the back of victories over Wales and Italy but defending champions France are also in the hunt for a clean sweep having accounted for Scotland and Ireland.
The build-up to the game has been dominated by France coach Marc Lievremont, who turned up the heat by claiming that England were the most disliked side in the Championship. England manager Martin Johnson has refused to rise to the bait and instead treated Lievremont's comments as a back-handed compliment.
Both sides have shown flashes of brilliance in the opening two rounds of the Championship, with England arguably the form team, but they will be wary of a notoriously unpredictable French side brimming with talent.
England - Player to Watch: Winger Chris Ashton has dominated the headlines in this year's Championship and has the single-season Six Nations record in his sights - his current tally of six tries leaves him level with England's Will Greenwood (2001) and Wales' Shane Williams (2008). England's Cyril Lowe (1914) and Scotland's Ian Smith (1925) share the Championship record of eight tries.
England - Team News: The game comes too soon for England captain Lewis Moody with his injured knee not up to the rigours of Test rugby just yet. As a result, the return of loose-head Andrew Sheridan for Alex Corbisiero is the only change to the side that swept Italy aside. Centre Mike Tindall will lead the side once again in Moody's continued absence.
France - Player to Watch: Racing Metro's Sebastien Chabal makes his first Test start since the drubbing at the hands of Australia, with the ever-influential Imanol Harinordoquy moved to the flank to make room. No pressure then.
France - Team News: Scrum-half Morgan Parra, centre Damien Traille and flanker Julien Bonnaire have all been axed in the wake of a disappointing showing against the Irish, with Biarritz's Dimitri Yachvili, Toulouse midfielder Yannick Jauzion and Chabal. Fullback Clement Poitrenaud was also initially dropped with Toulouse's Vincent Clerc drafted onto the wing and Maxime Medard switched to fullback. However, a hamstring injury saw Medard ruled out of the clash and Poitrenaud reinstated.
Key Battle: The back-row trio of Tom Wood, James Haskell and Nick Easter have provided much of the driving force behind England's expansive approach and their ability to out-muscle their French counterparts Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinordoquy and Sebastien Chabal will all but define the contest.
Trivia: England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson requires two points to reclaim top spot in the all-time Test points ranking from New Zealand's Dan Carter. If he achieves the feat then he will become the first player to have ever reclaimed the record.
Stats: France have conceded 13 tries in their last three Test outings - seven against Australia in November and three against Scotland and Ireland in this year's Six Nations.
"We don't like them and it's better to say that than be hypocritical." - France coach Marc Lievremont turns up the heat ahead of the Twickenham showdown.
"There is enough history in this game and in the history of the two countries to spice it up. I quite enjoy it. Everyone wants to get there. Everyone here wants us to win. It may not be the case around the rest of Europe but that doesn't matter." - England manager Martin Johnson shrugs off Lievremont's verbal grenade.
The Odds: England hammered France 34-10 on their last visit to Twickenham - fancy them to dish out another rugby lesson? Bet365 will offer you 14/1 if you think England will win by 21-25 points.
Fantasy: If you needed any reminding, England's Chris Ashton is in red-hot form and should be in your ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby line-up - no excuses.
Prediction: England have been in impressive form of late with an enviable blend of power and flair and that should be enough to account for a French side that while talent-heavy, appears a little fragile.
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