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England continue Grand Slam glory quest against redemption-seeking France

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France skipper Guilhem Guirado says the clash against England will be his side's game of the tournament. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

With France 16-0 up at half-time against Wales on 1 February, the Stade de France was in full La Marseillaise overdrive. The faithful, though, weren't singing at the final whistle.


Wales, rediscovering their roar, had surged to a 24-19 victory. Nine days later at Twickenham and after six changes to the starting line-up, the French have the perfect venue to atone for their schizophrenic display.

Jacques Brunel's men face an England side who overwhelmed the defending champions Ireland 32-20 in Dublin on 2 February.

Now that all England expects, Brunel's boys can burst the bubble. Do Eddie Jones's players have the nous and nerve to play as favourites?

"We've got a big game ahead of us, because of our opponent, and given their last performance," said France captain Guilhem Guirado on the eve of the clash.

"We know the English will up their game so it's going to be revealing for us."

La belle France

But which France will appear? The flamboyant buccaneers who sliced apart witless Welshmen for 40 minutes? Or the fumbling dunderheads who gifted victory to the same men they'd so easily bamboozled?

"It's been complicated since the Wales game," added Guirado. "We've tried to understand what we can improve but I've also felt that the group is revengeful. It's the game of the tournament."

Well put skipper. France last won at Twickenham in 2005 and another loss in south-west London will effectively end their chance for a first Six Nations crown in nine years.

Since France's Grand Slam vintage of 2010, Ireland and England have both claimed the championship three times. Wales, who have won both of their games of the 2019 tournament, have collected the other two.

Complacency

Most analysts and pundits predict an England victory. Jones, however, has spent the afterglow of the Dublin triumph warning of complacency.

"We have to get better," he said. The 59-year-old Australian has made two changes for the game.

Chris Ashton will start instead of Jack Nowell and Courtenay Lawes comes in for the injured Maro Itoje.

"The French are always an interesting team to play against," Jones added. "They're full of talent and unpredictability."

And his message appears to have been well received.

"What Wales showed us was how not to start a game against France," added England forward Billy Vunipola.

"What happened in the first-half against Wales probably shows how dangerous France can be. If you give them a leg up, then France are extremely, extremely dangerous.

"We've all played against French sides. Once they start feeling it emotionally then they're very, very tough to stop, so we can't allow them to get into that position."

But even if the French do outclass England in the opening stages, do they, after what happened in Paris, have the mentality to sustain the dominance?

It will be an existential encounter. How very French.