Ollie Phillips: England v France is a role reversal this Six Nations – let’s see if Les Bleus have the minerals in Le Crunch
It’s England v France – Le Crunch – this weekend in a match that could decide the Six Nations Championship – only this time the roles are reversed.
France are the best team in the competition by a country mile and England are the ones getting hammered.
But this is a must-win game for the French at Twickenham on Saturday. Let’s see if they have the minerals to stand up to the task.
In many ways the cancellation of France’s fixture against Scotland in the last round has added some extra intrigue to this match.
While the Scotland game looks likely to be rescheduled, that is not set in stone at the time of writing.
So France could really do with a win against England – and a bonus point – in order to go into next week’s showdown with leaders Wales knowing that maximum points would seal the Six Nations title, whatever happens with the Scotland fixture.
Will so much resting on the England game make France more cautious? I don’t think so. The most noticeable difference with this French team is their confidence in the way they play.
They are disciplined and focused, and in captain Charles Ollivon and Antoine Dupont have old heads on young shoulders.
Shaun Edwards rightly gets credit, but Fabien Galthie and Raphael Ibanez are pretty no-nonsense characters too.
They have brought rigour to the French game, even if that rigour has been lacking from their Covid protocols.
Ill discipline crippling England
England have enlisted referee Wayne Barnes to help cut their penalty count, and there’s no one better placed to counsel them.
Ill discipline has been crippling them, so this should help. When England actually threw the ball against Wales last time they looked sharp.
This was always going to be England’s biggest game so Eddie Jones isn’t taking many risks – even if sticking with underperforming players is, I think, a bigger risk.
Jones is the only person not on the overcrowded Sam Simmonds bandwagon. Simmonds is on fire and being touted for a Lions start but can’t get in the national team.
A rested France team with Romain Ntamack back in the squad will really stress-test England’s discipline.
The hope for England is that, with nothing to lose and a sense of injustice at losing to Wales, they prove dangerous opponents.
If they can get under the skin of France they might be able to disrupt them better than anyone else has at this Six Nations.
Wales: top but still rubbish
Wales will make it four wins from four and take a bonus point against Italy in Rome earlier on Saturday.
I don’t expect them to cut loose, though. While Louis Rees-Zammit is a wizard, they struggle for creativity with Dan Biggar at fly-half and a bulky, albeit effective, midfield.
I know I’m always bashing this Wales team, yet they sit top with three wins from three. To me, that just shows the fine margins at play.
I still think they’re rubbish but their discipline is truly unbelievable.
Hopefully those old heads in the squad won’t get carried away and realise that they have overachieved and need to improve.
Scotland to edge humdinger
Ireland won’t carry any Six Nations title hopes into their trip to Murrayfield on Sunday, but it should be a humdinger of a game.
They have really impressed me with their intensity and accuracy at the breakdown, only missing that midfield dynamism.
Scotland, though, will be well rested and I think are in too good form not to win what could be the match of the round.
My Six Nations predictions
Italy v Wales: Wales to win by 25 points
England v France: France to win by eight points
Scotland v Ireland: Scotland to win by six points