ENGLAND fly-half Toby Flood believes World Cup last eight opponents France are in such a state of disarray that a strong opening 20 minute salvo will as good as seal a semi-final spot for the Red Rose.
After narrow victories over Argentina and Scotland, coupled with the various high-profile off-field indiscretions committed by members of the squad, England’s passage to this stage of the competition could hardly be described as smooth.
But manager Martin Johnson’s travails pale into insignificance when compared to those of his French counterpart Marc Lievremont, who has had to reject claims of a mutiny and contend with the humiliation and subsequent media backlash following last weekend’s defeat against Tonga.
And Flood, who is set to play understudy to Jonny Wilkinson again unless Mike Tindall fails to recover from a dead leg, has instructed his team-mates to go for the jugular from the off in order to counteract the anticipated French backlash.
He said: “What we must do against France is say ‘for 20 minutes, this is massive.’ Our starts have been poor but if we get it right here then hopefully we’ll remove any resistance we’re going to have. We have to understand as a side that we blitz them from minute one.
“We know they are in a situation now when it looks like they are in disarray – but I have been in teams that looked in disarray and it’s a very dangerous thing. It can be a very powerful tool.”
Comparisons have been drawn between Lievremont’s squad and the French football team, who went on strike at the 2010 World Cup after Nicolas Anelka was sent home. And back row forward Tom Palmer, who is also likely to start on the bench on Saturday, believes England must prey on Les Bleus’ mental fragility.
“From my knowledge of French guys and what their mentality are like, it tends to be that if things don’t go their way or things aren’t going too well they do make quite a lot out of it,” said Palmer, who plays his club rugby for Stade Francais.
“It happens to the French. Look at their football team in the World Cup as well. In my experience, especially my first season in France at Stade, we weren’t particularly mentally strong as a group and if things started to go wrong then we folded fairly easily.
“You can just feel when your team, people aren’t supporting you, people aren’t talking, people just go missing a little bit. But France will be hugely committed to this match. They’ll see this as another chance.
“Things haven’t gone too well, they lost two games in the pool, but they are still in a quarter-final.”