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Preview: England vs. France – prediction, team news, head to head



Sports Mole previews Saturday’s Six Nations clash between England and France, including predictions, team news and their head-to-head record.

England welcome France to Twickenham on Saturday with both sides locked on 10 points apiece heading into the penultimate round of the 2023 Six Nations.

While both teams’ title hopes still ultimately rest in the hands of Grand Slam-chasing Ireland, victory is essential for either to still be in with a chance of claiming the crown on the final day.

Match preview

© Reuters

Three teams find themselves level on 10 points after three games of a predictably-competitive 2023 Six Nations campaign, and with the top four all facing each other this weekend, it promises to a crucial couple of days in the title battle.

Both England and France know that victory at Twickenham is imperative for them to be able to watch Ireland’s match against Scotland one day later with a vested interest, though, putting them in must-win territory already.

In truth, England have been there since losing to Scotland on the opening matchday once again, and Steve Borthwick‘s men were perhaps given a helping hand by the fixture list throwing up games against Italy and Wales to follow that defeat.

Neither game was entirely straightforward, but they duly picked up the bonus-point triumph over Italy at home before edging past a struggling Welsh side in Cardiff.

The kinder run of fixtures well and truly stops now, though, with back-to-back wins over the best two teams in world rugby needed to stand any chance of winning the title.

England cannot afford to let their minds wander to a possible title decider against Ireland in Dublin next weekend before first taking care of business against France, though, and a third successive win this weekend would leave them on their best run of Six Nations form since 2020.

Indeed, remarkably you have to go back to 2009-10 for the last time England won three Six Nations games on the bounce by double-figure margins, although Borthwick would no doubt take a last-gasp one-point win on Saturday if that was offered to him now.

France's Romain Ntamack celebrates scoring their first try with teammates on February 26, 2023© Reuters

France’s points difference of just +3 leaves them fourth in the table as things stand, but with Scotland and England still yet to face Ireland, Les Bleus will feel that they are perhaps the best-placed of the chasing pack to challenge the leaders and successfully defend the title they won last year.

Victory at Twickenham would only strengthen that belief, particularly if Ireland then beat Scotland on Sunday, with France hosting a Wales side that could be staring down the barrel of a Wooden Spoon in their final match.

Fabien Galthie‘s men were given a scare by Italy on the opening matchday before losing a thriller to Ireland in gameweek two, but they got their campaign back on track with victory over Scotland last time out.

France made a blistering start to that match, helped by an early Scottish red card, and while their numerical advantage was soon wiped out by Mohamed Haouas‘s moment of madness, they found themselves 19 points ahead after only 20 minutes at the Stade de France.

Scotland roared back to within four points at one stage, but France ultimately held firm and Gael Fickou‘s late try sealed both the win and a crucial try bonus point to join the three-team cluster on 10 points.

Including their run to Grand Slam glory last year, Les Bleus have now won seven of their last eight Six Nations matches, although the solitary defeat was that loss to Ireland in their most recent away game.

Twickenham has not been a happy hunting ground for France either – they have not won a Six Nations game there since 2005 – while England have never lost two Six Nations home games in a single campaign.

This is a side ranked second in the world and regarded by many as favourites to win the World Cup on home soil later this year, though, so there may be no better time for them to put their demons to rest at Rugby HQ.

England Six Nations form:

France Six Nations form:

Team News

England's Owen Farrell reacts after missing a penalty on February 25, 2023© Reuters

The big team news surrounding England is Borthwick’s bold decision to drop captain Owen Farrell to the bench for this match, with Marcus Smith returning at fly-half.

Farrell was wayward off the tee against Wales, preventing England from moving further clear of their hosts in Cardiff, while Smith’s impressive performance for Harlequins at club level last weekend may have ultimately proved to be a deciding factor in his selection.

That is the only change to the team that started against Wales, meaning that Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade continue as the centre partnership, while the in-form Ellis Genge will captain England in Farrell’s absence.

France have made three changes to the team that beat Scotland last time out, including the suspended Haouas being replaced by Dorian Aldegheri at tighthead.

Anthony Jelonch misses out through injury and is replaced by Francois Cros, while Jonathan Danty comes in for Yoram Moefana at 12.

Moefana does at least retain his place in the 23, and he will be joined on the bench by returning trio Peato Mauvaka, Maxime Lucu and Melvyn Jaminet.

Thomas Ramos starts at full-back again having scored 17 points in the win over Scotland, a game which also saw him gain 151 metres – the most by a French full-back in a Six Nations game since 2000, and the most of any French player in a single Six Nations match since 2015.

England starting lineup: 15. Freddie Steward, 14. Max Malins, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Ollie Lawrence, 11. Anthony Watson, 10. Marcus Smith, 9. Jack van Poortvliet; 1. Ellis Genge, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Ollie Chessum, 6. Lewis Ludlam, 7. Jack Willis, 8. Alex Dombrandt

Replacements: 16. Jack Walker, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Dan Cole, 19. David Ribbans, 20. Ben Curry, 21. Alex Mitchell, 22. Owen Farrell, 23. Henry Arundell

France starting lineup: 15. Thomas Ramos, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. Gael Fickou, 12. Jonathan Danty, 11. Ethan Dumortier, 10. Romain Ntamack, 9. Antoine Dupont (c); 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Julien Marchand, 3. Dorian Aldegheri, 4. Thibaud Flament, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. Francois Cros, 7. Charles Ollivon, 8. Gregory Alldritt

Replacements: 16. Peato Mauvaka 17. Reda Wardi, 18. Sipili Falatea, 19. Romain Taofifenua, 20. Sekou Macalou, 21. Maxime Lucu, 22. Yoram Moefana, 23. Melvyn Jaminet

Head To Head

Home teams have dominated this fixture in recent years, with the last seven meetings all going the way of the team playing on their own turf stretching back to England’s 2016 win in Paris.

You have to go back 18 years for France’s last win at Twickenham – an 18-17 triumph in 2005 – but they did win the most recent game between the two sides, with their 25-13 victory in Paris last year clinching the Grand Slam.

Overall, the two nations have faced off 109 times, with England leading the head-to-head record 60-42 in terms of wins, while in the Six Nations era England have won 14 and France have won nine of their 23 meetings, although only one of the France wins has come away.

SM words green background

We say: England 22-24 France

French wins at Rugby HQ are rare, and this match is a difficult one to call given that England are still a little unpredictable.

However, they are certainly still a work in progress under Borthwick, and they have not been entirely convincing in any of their matches so far.

The same could perhaps be said of France this year, but they are much closer to the finished article and, while they were beaten by Ireland in a thriller, they have developed an important knack of ending up on the winning side of close matches, which could bring their Twickenham hoodoo to an end on Saturday.

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