England were magnificent as they opened World Cup year with a 32-20 demolition of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.
Next up in their pursuit of the Six Nations crown surrendered to the Irish last year is Sunday’s clash with France, and here Press Association Sport examines five talking points heading into ‘Le Crunch’.
Things can only get better
Eddie Jones has sent an ominous warning to the other five nations by declaring he is certain England will be even better against France. Surpassing the performance that crushed Joe Schmidt’s men is a tall order given that so much of it was faultless, but it is the target set before the new tournament favourites.
Farrell in control
A number of players excelled at the Aviva Stadium and among them was Owen Farrell, who came through a key match in his development as captain with his leadership credentials enhanced. The Saracens playmaker showed a level of composure that has been missing at times and crucially, displayed a lighter touch when communicating with the referee.
The hare and the tortoise
England are overwhelming favourites to sweep aside a typically chaotic France but they see danger in their rivals’ ability to slow the game down. Former prop Joe Marler has talked about the tricks they use to rob opponents of momentum, reducing the match to a stop-start series of set-pieces. If England are to repeat their Dublin heroics, they must play at their own pace.
Unfit for purpose
France’s desire to drain the energy from the game is borne out of their poor conditioning, an issue exacerbated by the low tempo of the Top 14. They are able to field a gargantuan pack but this is to the detriment of their mobility, while their fitness levels are among the lowest in the Six Nations. Stories of players smoking and drinking around matches are common place.
Advantage May and Ashton
In picking two centres on the wings, France have exposed a vulnerability that can be exploited by two of the finest finishers in the game – Jonny May and Chris Ashton. May has electric speed and Ashton’s support lines are key to his brilliance as a poacher.
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