Eddie Jones’ troops open the defence of their Six Nations crown this weekend by welcoming France to Twickenham. Les Bleus have been the subject of much reconfiguration since a 62-13 demolition job by New Zealand at the World Cup in 2015. Thierry Dusatouir is one of a number of key names to have departed the national side under Guy Noves who, after taking the job from Phillipe Saint-Andre, has rebuilt his side with fresh, uncapped talent consisting primarily of power packed forwards opposite Saint-Andre’s preferred speed method. Such a tactic has been a hallmark of Noves’ philosophy which brough him such success at Toulouse. Prop Uini Atonio is the 24 stone standout of one of the largest French packs looking to crush an England scrum already bereft of Billy Vunipola.
The Lions head into this game without much in the way of injury worries. Vunipola will obviously be a big miss for them, while Anthony Watson’s injury means Eddie Jones goes for Elliot Daly – made famous for his sending off inside five minutes for an airborne tackle on Argentina number 8 Leonardo Senatorr – on the wing ahead of Jack Nowell.
England have looked the superior side since Jones’ takeover, but questions still remain over hooker Dylan Hartley’s ability to lead the side. He can consider himself lucky to be in the side at all after his latest ban for striking, and with natural leaders like Joe Launchbury in the side, they are not short of replacements. Hartley is treading a very thin line, where his ability to play rugby, in arguably one of his biggest physical tests against the French pack, may define his continuation as the leader of the XV.
On a brighter spark for England, Jonny May is set to return for the opening event, having recovered from a knee injury that threatened his career. May has Continued his rehabilitation at the Michael Johnson sports science facility in Texas, with his workrate impressive enough to seal the left wing berth, with the back-line trio being completed by the ever present Mike Brown.
France will look to bully England out of the game at the rucks, with brutal tackles a constant over the 80 minutes. Without fearless number 8 Vunipola, the hosts are somewhat weaker in the pack. But look to than the returning May to bound after the ball like a playful puppy, while the combination of Owen Farrell and George Ford as visionaries see England thread through a rough but still vulnerable French back line.