Mercurial France will provide a stern title hurdle, insists Haskell

Ross McLean
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Wasps skipper James Haskell was a member of the England side which won the 2011 Six Nations title
ENGLAND flanker James Haskell insists their historic volatility ensures France will prove an unpredictable hurdle to overcome during his side’s Six Nations title decider at Twickenham on Saturday.

France have endured an uninspiring championship but still retain a slender hope of securing the title, although a major power shift would be required in order for Philippe Saint-Andre’s troops to lift the trophy.

Leaders England, reigning champions Ireland and Wales are locked in a three-way battle, with Stuart Lancaster’s side holding a slight advantage in a campaign likely to be determined on points difference for a second successive year.

Back-row forward Haskell spent two seasons with Stade Francais between 2009 and 2011 and witnessed first-hand the ability of Les Bleus to mesmerise and infuriate in equal measure.

“On their day I’m a firm believer that the French can beat anyone in the world,” said the 29-year-old Wasps skipper. “Naturally they’re fantastic rugby players but there’s a huge mental and emotional side of their game which means you never know what team you’re going to get on the day.

“You just always have to assume they are fantastic rugby players, that they have the X-factor ability and plan accordingly. You should never plan for a weak French side to turn up.

“They are very physical blokes, very big men, and given they’ve had a disappointing Six Nations there’s nothing they’d love more than to come to Twickenham and beat the old Roast Beef.”

Haskell was a member of the last England side to win the Six Nations in 2011, although the milestone was tarnished by a Grand Slam-busting 24-8 defeat to Ireland in Dublin in their final championship fixture.

This year’s Grand Slam hopes have long since dissipated having been sabotaged once again by Ireland and, with circumstances different, Haskell believes the Six Nations trophy is a tantalising reward.

“In 2011 we had a pretty comprehensive beating by Ireland,” added 57-cap Haskell. “We’d thrown away a Grand Slam and it was like a runners-up, commiserations, taking part medal. To go to Twickenham and get a result that brings the championship will be hugely special as we’ll have earned it.”