Eddie Jones has resisted the clamour for major changes but the pressure is really on now for England to rediscover their identity.
They showed flashes against Wales in the last round but since the World Cup in 2019 we haven’t really seen England put a lot of width on the ball and it has all been about kicking for territory and looking to apply pressure that way and force turnovers.
That isn’t how they played to reach the final in Japan and I think the hangover from the defeat to South Africa is still lingering on with as many as 10 of today’s starting XV also having started that final.
They’ve lost their identity over the past 16 months and they have to show now that they’re still capable of imposing their power game on the opposition but also produce more in attack and do so against a France team that is in form and reliable.
Max Malins is the one big change that Jones has made as he makes his first Test start and he’s been tearing up trees for Bristol so it’ll be interesting to see how he goes after Elliot Daly, despite his unbelievable ability, has struggled for form at full back of late.
Charlie Ewels and Luke Cowan-Dickie have come in to the team as well but they have both had chances before and aren’t the changes that people on the outside have been talking about.
It would have been good to see Ollie Lawrence given another start after he was cast aside following the defeat to Scotland and you’ve got to feel for Paolo Odogwu, who is the only player in the initial 28-man squad not to have been in a matchday squad yet.
The upside for him is that they’re splitting their match fees between the whole squad in this tournament so he’s getting paid handsomely for holding the tackle bags but there was such excitement around him before the tournament and he’ll be itching for an opportunity.
There may be pressure on England to put a performance together but France should clearly be considered favourites going into this game and the pressure is on them to get a result as they still have a title and Grand Slam very much to play for.
It’s 16 years since France last won at Twickenham in the Six Nations and this has got to be the best chance they’ve had since 2005 to beat England away given the form book and the way the two teams look on paper.
Aside from Bernard le Roux and perhaps Romain Ntamack, who is back on the bench, the French are essentially at full strength and England may not have too many players missing but they’re a team low on confidence.
The return of Virimi Vakatawa could be the big difference as well. We talk about wanting to see England getting people excited but there aren’t many more exciting players in world rugby with ball in hand than Vakatawa at the moment.
I think almost everyone would have liked to see a few more changes to this England team now that the tournament has gone and we’re looking to the future but we all know this group of players are capable of big performances.
The head says France will be heading back to Paris still on course for a Grand Slam but it just feels wrong backing against England at Twickenham so I’m going for the home side by four.
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