BAGSHOT – England captain Owen Farrell says his side are taking nothing for granted as they prepare to face a wounded France in the Six Nations.
Farrell’s men go into Sunday’s clash at Twickenham on the back of an impressive 32-20 first-round win away to Ireland in Dublin that denied the reigning Six Nations champions back-to-back Grand Slams.
France, by contrast, will be trying to bounce back after squandering a 16-0 half-time lead in a 24-19 defeat by Wales in Paris.
It is also 14 years since Les Bleus last beat England at Twickenham, an 18-17 success built on six penalties from the boot of Dimitri Yachvili.
France coach Jacques Brunel has unveiled a physically powerful team on Friday that saw giant centre Mathieu Bastareaud restored to midfield and Farrell said: “They are a very big team, very tough to play against.
“They can suck you in by playing one way, and delivering in another,” added the flyhalf, speaking at England’s training headquarters near London after head coach Eddie Jones had announced his side.
“If you switch off for two seconds, they will punish you because they have dangerous players across the park.
“We have to make sure that we are fully connected in what we are doing as a group and ready for anything.”
Farrell’s comments were underlined by Jones, who pointed to the six changes made by Brunel to his starting XV as proof of France’s squad depth.
“They are a team full of talent,” said Jones, whose side have been drawn in the same pool as France for the World Cup in Japan later this year.
“I think they’ve made six changes to their team from the previous week so, again, they rely a lot on individual talents but they’ve got guys that can break the game open.
“We just have to be very well organised and absolutely brutal in our defence.”
Bastareaud returns, but England have a hugely powerful centre of their own in Manu Tuilagi, who made his first Six Nations start since 2013 against Ireland after several injury-plagued years.
Jones dismissed talk of a colossal midfield collision by saying: “Centres don’t play each other, that’s the reality.
“They (France) play left and right centre. It won’t be Manu’s responsibility to stop him (Bastareaud), it’ll be whoever is defending in front of him.
“He’s a good player and we’ll show him plenty of respect, but I think we’ll be able to take care of him,” the former Australia and Japan coach added.
Jones made two changes to the starting XV that played against Ireland, recalling Chris Ashton in place of Jack Nowell on the right wing and bringing in Courtney Lawes for injured lock Maro Itoje.
Until the start of this season, Sale wing Ashton was playing for French side Toulon but it was the 31-year-old’s record of 20 tries in 43 Tests for England that was a key factor in his promotion to the starting side.
“We’ve just got a gut feeling he’ll be right for the start of the game, and Jack will be right for the end of the game,” explained Jones.
The England coach said he believed his team could top their performance against Ireland, saying: “I’ve got no doubt we are going to be better this week.”