Saturday at Twickenham was supposed to be a Guinness Six Nations title eliminator. The teams that had finished first and second in both last year’s championship and the Autumn Nations Cup had been tipped to fight it out for honours, only for Eddie Jones and England to arrive into this latest meeting versus France having lost their way in February. 

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It was perhaps these humblings at the hands of both Scotland and Wales that resulted in Jones steering clear of the verbals usually associated with his pre-game build-up. Essentially, no one got it in the neck this past week, the only place where the heat was turned up a few degrees being his desire to see the round four contest properly refereed.  

“We have got a referee on Saturday whose job is to enforce the laws of the game and we are hopeful he will enforce the laws of the game as the law books states,” he said with a nudge. It was about as incindiary as Jones got in an cabaret where the diplomacy extended to his admiration of this current France team.

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The XV – stats and snapshots ahead of Six Nations round four

Every time there is an England-France match the old line about suspect Gallic temperament gets trotted out. Think Sebastien Vahaamahina at the recent World Cup and that crazy quarter-final red card that he got against the match-winning Welsh for throwing a clear and obvious elbow to the head of the unfortunate Aaron Wainwright.  

Jones, though, refused to head down that pathway of France discussion. It’s a different France after all, one where Fabien Galthie’s side are challenging for trophies and not faffing about like the teams the last decade did under Jacques Brunel, Guy Noves and Philippe Saint-Andre. There was a reason why England won six of their eight Six Nations fixtures with those guys at the helm, culminating in that 44-8 Twickenham hammering in 2019 – France were rarely at the races.

And now? If Jones is to be believed, they have finally got the balance right between playing smart and still playing with traditional French flair. Just hear him out. “I’m not a historian mate so I really can’t buy into that sort of theory [Gallic temperament] and I find that to be probably not the way to talk these days. 

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“So I don’t want to get into a discussion on that but what I do know about them is that they are a very well-coached, well-drilled team that plays to a certain pattern. That have a long kicking game, high kicking game, they don’t play anything in their half and once they get into your half they try to create situations where they can play like they did when they were in the park. 

“You go to France and you see kids playing touch like you see them playing in New Zealand. They like to play off the speed of the ball, they like to play off momentum and when (Antoine) Dupont gets some momentum around the ruck he is very dangerous. 

“To me they have been able to create a modern version of their roles when you used to see them in the old days – they would play with width and a certain amount of freedom and they have been able to capture that into the modern game very smartly and very brightly. It is a really good credit to their coaching staff and their players about how disciplined they are in playing that game.”

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