ENGLAND vs FRANCE
TOMORROW – 8.30AM ITV1
WHICH France will turn up? It’s a question asked often, particularly ahead of the bitter and sometimes brutal contests tagged ‘Le Crunch’. But in light of Martin Johnson’s selection, perhaps the outcome this time rests more on how England will perform and whether the gamble of starting Toby Flood at inside centre will pay off.
This will be the first time Flood has started in the number 12 jersey for England since February 2010, in a 30-17 victory over Wales at Twickenham. It is certainly a big call in a must-win match against fierce opposition, but like the England coach himself, I would argue that it is not the greatest of gambles. Flood has played outside Jonny Wilkinson 15 times previously for England, and not only will this offer an additional exciting distribution option, it is also likely to relieve some of the pressure from Wilkinson, just as Mike Catt did when playing at 12 in the 2003 World Cup.
But for all the analysis of England’s backline, this match will be won and lost in the pack. The inclusion of Tom Palmer and Nick Easter looks positive in aiming to dominate at the breakdown and win quicker ball. It’s a task that England’s forwards should be up to given that Les Bleus have been uncharacteristically ineffective up front so far in the tournament.
Neither side has lit up the World Cup so far, but as England showed when they progressed to the final four years ago, solidarity and determination is more vital than form in the knockout stages. In this respect, the Red Rose are in a much better position than the mutinous French. Their woeful defeat to Tonga has only served to fuel the infighting and it’s difficult to see how Marc Lievremont can exploit internal frustrations to get the best from his players, or even if they will listen to him at all.
The Red Rose have beaten France in the knockout stages three times since 1991 and should be expected to make it four in six World Cups. The winning margins were nine, 17 and five points, so back England to overcome their four point handicap at evens with Paddy Power.
All the signals point to a low-scoring game and a sell of total match points at 38 with Sporting Index. In the last six head-to-heads, only once has the score surpassed that mark and the highest aggregate in the four World Cup meetings is 31. England have conceded just one try in the 2011 tournament so far.
England (-4) at evens with Paddy Power
Sell points at 38 with Sporting Index