Big test for England centres

FRANCE boss Marc Lievremont has aimed a few shots across the bows by accusing the English of arrogance ahead of tomorrow RBS 6 Nations match, but the players know that’s all just hype. They’re also accustomed to it; whenever they pull on the shirt and no matter who they’re playing the opposition want to rip their heads off.

England proved they can handle hostility by winning in Wales earlier this month. France, however, pose a much bigger test. Les Bleus know about winning, are Grand Slam champions and have a really big pack who will take England on.

For a change England have the better back line, but a major question mark lingers over the long-term prospects of Hape-Tindall centre pairing. Martin Johnson’s men are at home and will be favourites, but it is sure to be an incredible battle.

VERDICT

England will win. If they score early it’ll be by 15 points, if not they’ll edge it right at the end. In any case it definitely won’t seal the title; Ireland may yet prove tougher opponents.

BEN YOUNGS Vs DIMITRI YACHVILI

I’ve always been a big fan of Yachvili. He has an incredible record against England, so much so that he is something of a nemesis. He is not as quick as he used to be but his kicking to corners and at goal is very good indeed, so England can’t give him an inch. Youngs is a very exciting scrum-half who can change the game in an instant with a break, although he is still green. This is his first taste of playing France and, while Yachvili has the badges to prove his worth, this is Youngs’ chance to show he belongs at the top level. The Northampton No9 has done well in his last few games. Against France he will require extreme flair, which he showed against Australia last year, but if he produces that he can turn the contest.

NICK EASTER Vs SEBASTIEN CHABAL

Chabal is a talisman for the French, and something of a folk hero. He is an incredibly powerful runner and astonishingly competitive. When he gets the ball you will hear a roar erupt from the French supporters. What’s more, he also hates the English. But tomorrow he comes up one of the best No8s in the world at the moment. Easter is so strong, gets forward and understands the way this England team plays. He may not get the headlines of Youngs and Ashton, but he is the unsung hero of Johnson’s current crop. He is from the old school and excels in the tight just like his old boss at Harlequins, Dean Richards, once did, taking balls off people at will, holding it and moving forward without going to ground early. Without realising it, England desperately need Easter to have a good game.


SHONTAYNE HAPE Vs YANNICK JAUZION

I’m not sure the French realise just how good Yannick Jauzion is. He is so strong, has plenty of pace and on his day is very tough to stop. Shontayne Hape, meanwhile, has a lot still to prove. He is riding the wave of success that England’s backs have generated over the last 12 months but is yet to really come out of his shell in the way, say, Toby Flood has during this RBS 6 Nations. He can show and go, tackle and get around well, but this is a huge test for him. From the changes they have made it looks like France will target England’s centre pairing; the question is whether Hape and Mike Tindall have the capability at the highest level. Tomorrow at Twickenham they have the chance to show they do.