A week is a long time in sport but England just need to guard against complacency in order to avoid undoing their good work in Dublin last weekend.
France have won just one of their last 10 visits to Twickenham in the Six Nations, that was 14 years ago, and last weekend they were guilty of blowing a 16-point lead and allowing Wales to produce the biggest comeback in the 136-year history of the Championship.
The only way to respond to what we witnessed at the Stade de France is with a Gallic shrug or the phrase ‘so French’ and the main danger England face this weekend is that the two teams’ experiences in Round 1 were in such stark contrast that people now think it is a foregone conclusion. The bookies have France’s odds as long as 6/1 now!
If you’re Jack Nowell, you’re wondering what the hell’s going on because he was outstanding last week but Chris Ashton set the record for most tries in a Top 14 season in the last campaign and I just think Eddie Jones has handpicked this game to give him his chance.
I’m pleased he’s kept changes to a minimum, though, and given these players the chance to build some momentum. Some people were suggesting that he’d make five or six changes to freshen things up after a Herculean effort but that wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.
It’ll be fascinating to see how the game pans out because there is an expectation on England now and it’s tough to produce performances with the level of intensity and physicality in defence that they did last week game in, game out.
And, because France completely capitulated in the second half against Wales last week, a lot of people are going to Twickenham or planning to watch on TV and anticipating a big win for England.
That’s a pressure that the players will just have to deal with and one that they’ve experienced before when they were on their 18-game winning streak but it won’t have been easy preparing for this week’s game.
It might sound like a hackneyed old cliché but it’s 100% true that we have no idea what France are going to turn up on Sunday. They don’t even know what they’re going to do next and that was perfectly encapsulated by Sebastien Vahaamahina not knowing he was captain in the latter stages last week.
They are either sublime or ridiculous and there’s no middle ground really. That’s always been the same. I played against them in Paris and they defended their home patch like their lives depended on it and won 31-6 with the likes of Christophe Dominici and Damien Traille providing the flair.
But then I played them at Twickenham and we hammered them. We were 29-0 up at half-time and it was like the under-15s had turned up!
Mentally there is clearly a weakness there and professionally they are light years behind the top teams in the world. They will be dangerous at times and England might not blow them away but they faded badly last week and England will know they have the edge when it comes to fitness if it doesn’t all go their way early on.
They picked the biggest pack ever last week and they haven’t lost too much in that department with the likes of Demba Bamba, Felix Lambey and Yacouba Camara coming in and then there’s the return of Mathieu Bastareaud, who Thomas Castaignede suggested this week should start playing at number eight!
They’ll pose a physical threat and it might actually help them playing away from home without the pressure of the Stade de France crowd on their backs but I think, despite the size difference, Henry Slade will be licking his lips at the prospect of coming up against Bastareaud.
The Exeter man’s greater speed and mobility will cause all sorts of problems for Damien Penaud and Gael Fickou and force them to bite in or make decisions that they don’t really want to have to make.
England will have been focusing predominantly on themselves, of course, and it’s no coincidence that they produced a display full of such energy and ferocity at the Aviva Stadium when the boys haven’t been made to go through numerous ridiculously intense and long training sessions in the build-up.
They even played Georgia behind closed doors in one of the fallow weeks last year and you could see the players were out on their feet. We’re only one week into the tournament but it’s safe to say they look much fresher this year.
All the clichés about the French are true but complacency is England’s main enemy on Sunday and if they get anywhere close to the level of performance they put in over in Dublin, this French side won’t be able to live with them.
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