French eye down victory over England

by staff

France will seek to keep their Six Nations rugby title hopes alive by beating old foes England at the Stade de France on Sunday.

With Wales expected to make it four wins from four away in Italy on Saturday the French cannot afford a slip-up against England after the 17-17 draw with Ireland last Sunday ended their hopes of a Grand Slam in coach Philippe Saint-Andre's first campaign.

Saint-Andre, who made his name as a coach in England with Gloucester, has been loath to make sweeping changes, unlike his predecessor Marc Lievremont, but has opted to make a change in the halfbacks with Julien Dupuy and Lionel Beauxis at scrum-half and fly-half respectively.

Both last started a game for France back in 2009 but Saint-Andre believes one of the reasons for the hosts' slow starts in their three games so far has been because scrum-half Morgan Parra and fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc have been pedestrian.

"They (Dupuy and Beauxis) know each other well because they've played together as half backs at Stade Francais," said the 44-year-old former France skipper.

"It's a strategic choice on my part. England are the team that occupy the field of play the most, especially away from home.

"It's also because during our first three games we struggled to really get going, and we had trouble getting out of our own half during the first 20 minutes."

Saint-Andre, who also had spells coaching Bourgoin, Sale and Toulon, said he was relishing his first ever confrontation with England.

"An England v France game is more than just a game of rugby," he said.

"A lot of people might only watch one rugby match a year, and that match will be France v England," he said.

"It's all about fight, discipline and commitment throughout 80 minutes and then at the end we shake hands like gentlemen.

"The 'Crunch' has a very special flavour, and it's even more special when you win it so we'll be doing everything we can to make sure we finish with smiles on our faces and shake hands with a 'good game', and hopefully a win, at the end."

For his England counterpart Stuart Lancaster it is also his first such experience of 'Le Crunch'.

But for him a win could earn him invaluable currency as he seeks to see off the likes of former Springbok coach Nick Mallett in securing the post full-time.

Lancaster's case has been helped by two hard-earned but unspectacular wins against the two weakest sides in the tournament Scotland and Italy and a gutsy display in defeat last time out at home to Wales.

Lancaster, though, is adamant that he is focussed solely on the France game and not his long-term job prospects.

"It was always going to be a public process - the players have not been affected and it hasn't affected the management. We are just concentrating on Sunday," said the 42-year-old.

Lancaster has chosen youngster Owen Farrell at fly-half after an assured performance against Wales and he is looking to him to pin back the French with his positional kicking.

"Playing France away is one of the biggest challenges in international rugby. They have got about 900 caps between them and the experience of being in the World Cup final," said Lancaster.