It was again not pretty, as befitting the general rugby theme in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations but Eddie Jones will have to refocus on the France Le Crunch fixture late Saturday afternoon.
Round Four of this year’s championship and the Le Crunch match-up is always one to set the standard. Especially after what occurred a fortnight ago for the hosts. England at times looked dangerous with the ball in hand in Round Three. They arguably left a couple of tries out there. Importantly though, England never looked like winning once, the Welsh team had drawn even; distractions and penalty decisions aside.
What this means is a much improved France travel to Twickenham to take on England in the annual Le Crunch fixture to see who comes out as tournament contenders. Recover with a decent victory, and it dashes the hopes of France – lose at home, and France will be buoyed ahead of the critical Round Five match against Triple Crown winners, Wales next weekend.
This will be a true test of where Eddie Jones’ England is at.
France will challenge England’s line speed
It is such an intriguing battle coming up this weekend. France was definitely on the up before their Covid bubble was burst so severely. A yet-to-be scheduled replay against Scotland has stalled their title hopes as such. So while this group has had to twiddle their thumbs, pent-up anxiety and frustration will now be directed towards England.
And they have added starch to their star-studded backline, as well as the fast and aggressive backline that promotes the relationship between the back row and their halfback.
As a compliment, England’s Ben Youngs has recently called Antoine Dupont the best halfback in the world. A call encouraged too by the former player of choice, Aaron Smith. If a fully recovered France side plays to their potential, Le Crunch is going to be a challenge to England on many fronts.
🇫🇷 XV de France : Dupont, Ntamack et Vakatawa dans la liste pour affronter l’Angleterre
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Charles Ollivon, France’s captain is a shrewd leader and has got France’s pack firing again. But it is their young half-back Antonie Dupont who is grabbing the headlines. They are wonderful talents and pose a great danger to England’s rigid defensive line. Especially with the way there are getting Virimi Vakatawa into the game. He is surely the world’s best centre going at the moment and France will be looking to get his hands on the ball as much as possible. England must guard against Dupont and Ollivon’s ability to utilize the gain line.
England’s rush defence, for the most part, is devastating to an opponent’s attacking strategy. However, it leaves gaping holes behind its own. Wales gave an example of ways to defeat Eddie’s England, but France most certainly will seek to widen the cracks.
Defeating England ‘in England’ is motivation enough
With Sean Edwards at the helm, this France Le Crunch fixture will not be the usual quivering away game for Les Bleus. They will be fired up, well prepared, and hungry to put one over England at home for the first time since 2007.
Jones was angry at himself for the way he underprepared his team when France dominated England in February 2020. He has got England’s strategy wrong twice, which is only adding to the opposition’s confidence levels – and fans can only hope that a home ground advantage does not allow for two successive losses in a row to occur.
Fans will want more of the 2019 result, when a 44-8 flogging was less Le Crunch, and more like Chariots of Fire. Owen Farrell and Johnny May will fondly recall it; as will the visitors. That was France’s biggest defeat to England since they lost 37–0 in 1911, as well as their biggest loss to any team in the Five/Six Nations since that date.
England host bi-annual France Le Crunch match Saturday, March 13
This contest is a wonderful prospect for judging Eddie’s England after a disappointing Six Nations [to date]. Steering the ship back on course will be a bonus for showing loyalty. It will be a true test when it comes to the troops. Who can, and who cannot run parallel to the purposes of the team?
To do any less will add more pressure on individuals’ futures, not to say on the coach himself. Signed through til 2023, might the internal questions begin to mount while any possible British and Irish Lions tour takes the majority of senior England players away from Jones’ control.
Saturday will be a real pointer for Jones, and for the way in which his mid-World Cup cycle years are perceived. Meanwhile, France can gain the most from a win in London. Yet not lose to the same degree as England, if they were to come up short.
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