England faces defending champions France in round four of this year’s Six Nations at Twickenham on Saturday.
Both sides have two wins from three games, with 10 points each, but England sits ahead in the table due to their superior points difference of 21.
France has conceded almost as many points as they have scored, with Fabien Galthie’s side facing a tough test against Italy, losing to Ireland in Dublin and almost letting slip a seemingly unconquerable lead over Scotland in Paris.
This game is crucial for both teams to keep their hopes alive for a potential championship triumph, and is equally important to Ireland, who may enter the final round with the title already wrapped up depending on this result.
How to watch England vs France
England’s Six Nations 2023 clash against France kicks off at 4.45 pm on Saturday 11 March at Twickenham.
The match will be shown on ITV1, with coverage starting at 4.15 pm. You can also watch an England vs France live stream on ITVX.
Clash of the dynamic halfbacks
Owen Farrell has been dropped in a bombshell move from England head coach Steve Borthwick, with Marcus Smith starting at fly-half against France after two brief cameos from the bench against Italy and Wales.
Smith returned to England camp on Sunday after starring in Harlequins’ recent win over Exeter Chiefs. It’s a big call and one that could pay off in a big way. Particularly as Farrell has struggled off the tee with a kicking success rate of merely 47 per cent in the first three rounds.
Smith is paired with Jack van Poortvliet at scrum-half, who of course emerged under Borthwick at Leicester Tigers. The 9 and 10 began their partnership in England’s dismal autumn, but may yet flourish under Borthwick’s regime. Van Poortvliet’s quick thinking and snappy service in tandem with Smith’s directness could provide England with the perfect base from which to attack – especially as a bonus point win is vital to England’s title hopes.
Opposite them will of course be Toulouse’s Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack – surely the most formidable halfback combination in world rugby today. At the heart of their partnership is their ability to complement each other’s strengths. Dupont is known for his lightning-fast acceleration and quick decision-making, which allows him to create opportunities for his teammates with ease. Ntamack, on the other hand, is a calm and composed playmaker, who is renowned for his tactical kicking and vision.
For England’s young halfbacks, who have faced both South Africa and New Zealand at Twickenham, it may be the dynamic blend of Dupont and Ntamack who give them their toughest test on the international stage so far.
Lawrence faces his toughest test yet
Ollie Lawrence has impressed so far against Italy and Wales and made a mighty claim on ownership of the inside centre role with the force of England stalwart Manu Tuilagi beginning to fade.
Opposite Lawrence and his centre partner Henry Slade is Gael Fickou at 13. His versatility and dynamism have led to his inclusion in the conversation of the world’s best centres, and he has been phenomenal so far in this championship.
Fickou will cause trouble for Lawrence, Slade, and even Smith. He leads the French defence and knowing Smith’s penchant to move across the pitch and bring his inside centre into the game through nifty and subtle passes, Fickou may just devour every attack England throws his way.
Behemoths clash in the second row
Whilst Maro Itoje has moved across the second and back row for England in the past, Borthwick seems settled on using the Saracen as a lock alongside Leicester’s Ollie Chessum. The duo take to the pitch again this weekend as Courtney Lawes has had to bow out with a shoulder injury.
France’s physicality has been the base for their success and Paul Willemse sits at the bottom of that pyramid as one of rugby union’s most imposing figures. He is a strong ball carrier and tackler but he excels at the lineout with a height of 6’7 and an excellent jumping ability and a knack for winning opposition throws.
Borthwick bases his game on the importance of the set piece, knowing that without a functioning scrum or lineout, your chances of victory are slim. Itoje is also an excellent lineout jumper and has a superb ability to disrupt opposition set-piece plays.
Despite the height advantage Willemse holds over the Saracens forward, Itoje’s athleticism and intelligent interferences may make up for what he concedes in strength. The shine may sit in these sides’ backlines, but between Itoje and Willemse and the front fives as a whole, is where this game will be won or lost.