The fifth and final round of this year’s Six Nations Championship will ooze excitement, energy and an England win? Along with Ireland and Wales, Stuart Lancaster’s side are still in with a chance of clinching the title, which would be the first during his stint as head coach. So in the face of a somewhat fierce some French side, what do England have to do to ensure the trophy is theirs?
England’s Final Hurdle: The French
Coherence is the key. The first few games against Wales and Italy saw England start slowly and gradually increase the pressure on their rivals, and with it add more and more points to the scoreboards. However last Saturday against Scotland had England produce some slick rugby initially before the thread started to become loose as the game went on. The continuity that this side require, not only in the players but in regard to their style of play, is the building blocks for developing the confidence that can win the tournament for the men in white. An instant attack of strength, determination and flair will put England on the front-foot, and by cleverly using replacements such as Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs and Danny Cipriani (deserving of more than the three minutes he was given against Scotland) Lancaster can refuel what will inevitably be a tiring XV on the field. Fresh legs and eager desperation to drive the ball over the line has clearly bolstered England in previous games, and with no love lost between the two countries, it is vital to keep the intense pressure piled upon the visitors this Saturday.
Geoff Parling gets back in the starting squad alongside Courtney Lawes in the second row, a partnership with enough experience and talent to banish all those injury worries that Lancaster faced at the start of the campaign. Both, who have come back from injury to rightfully regain their places in the forward pack, have played in this fixture before, with Parling enjoying two wins over Le Bleus and Lawes having lost two of three matches. A force to be reckoned with, this pairing, which sees Dave Attwood demoted to the bench, can certainly be presumed as one of England’s strongest points.
Another Leicester Tigers player set to feature heavily in this game is tighthead prop Dan Cole, who earns his 50th cap this weekend. He will become only the 5th prop to have ever made this many test appearances for England and makes up part of the some 440 caps that the starting XV hold between them. The 27 year old British and Irish Lion is a prominent player amongst the team, but will be looking to improve on previous performances, dominate the scrum and earn England advantages and penalties that can be the ultimate difference between winning and losing.
Nick Easter is brought back onto the bench, despite mixed reviews over the past few weeks. He became England’s oldest try scorer at the age of 36 when he came off the bench against Italy in February to score, and has only missed out on the Scotland match all series.
James Haskell and captain Chris Robshaw continue at seven and eight, proving that even though they didn’t play at their best against Scotland, Lancaster knows that this formidable duo are capable of turning balls over and being quick at the breakdown, allowing the likes of Mike Brown to work his magic at the back of the field.
Brown has been outstanding this tournament, overcoming injury to face Scotland and showing why he is number one choice full-back for his country at the moment. His pace, flair and ability under a high-ball allows the game to intensify and create some fantastic moments of play. This also goes for George Ford, who has stepped into Owen Farrell’s shoes amidst injury. Equally admirable is Jonathan Joseph, who looks set to be on track as the tournaments top try scorer this year, having consistently played with desire and grit. Having made some enchanting runs, spectacular side-stepping and crunching tackles, Joseph has made waves not only in his attacking game but distinctly in defence too. It is important for this to be on display against France, otherwise Philippe Saint-Andre’s side will pick holes in England’s defensive back line.
If England finish within four points of Ireland (who face Scotland) and Wales fail to conquer Italy be a huge margin, they will become Six Nations Champions for the first time in four years. Lancaster will finally have the title under his belt and the nation will be more confident than most going into this year’s World Cup six months from now. Sounds easy? I’m sure the French will have something to say about that!
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