'Brutal' England seek French tonic to heal World Cup scar

by Luke PHILLIPS
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After a training camp in Nice, Fabien Galthie has picked youthful France match-day squad

England have threatened "absolute brutality" against France in their opening Six Nations game on Sunday in a bid to start to heal the pain of a lost Rugby World Cup final.

Eddie Jones guided his English side to a thrilling semi-final win over New Zealand in Japan, but they faltered in the final, going down 32-12 to South Africa.

"There's a scar there and you'll have that scar for the rest of your life," Jones acknowledged.

"It never goes away, but you deal with the scar."

Jones, who said he wanted his England team to be referred to in the same way as rarely-beaten New Zealand, added: "You want to be motivated by success.

"Going forward, we want to play rugby that stops the nation. We want to play with such a ferocious spirit that the opposition don't know where to go."

England thrashed France at Twickenham last year but the Red Rose has traditionally struggled to win on French soil.

Since inception of the Six Nations in 2000, France have won six of the 10 meetings at the Stade de France.

France were poor under Jacques Brunel, but threaten to be a different under newly-appointed Fabien Galthie, who has brought in experienced hands in ex-hooker and skipper Raphael Ibanez and Warren Gatland's former right-hand man at Wales, defence specialist Shaun Edwards.

- Steely edge -

A steelier edge and less pedestrian approach are expected from a team that rarely bared its teeth in last year's World Cup, where they exited after a 20-19 quarter-final defeat by Wales, expedited by a red card for Sebastien Vahaamahina's reckless elbow to Aaron Wainwright's face.

Galthie has injected some youth into the France team. The starting XV has an average of fewer than 15 caps and there are only 12 survivors from the World Cup quarter-final loss to Wales in the 23 who will don kit on Sunday. Yet the backline has a familiar feel.

Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont start at half-back, inside the potentially dangerous midfield pairing of Gael Fickou and Fiji-born Virimi Vakatawa.

"We need continuity as we build this team," said Galthie, with France to host the next Rugby World Cup in 2023.

"We count on them to continue to work and develop the potential in our team."

There are Test debuts for Montpellier tight-head prop Mohamed Haouas and his club teammate, full-back Anthony Bouthier, with a further pair of international rookies on the bench in lock Boris Palu and back-rower Cameron Woki.

Flanker Charles Ollivon captains the side following Guilhem Guirado's retirement.

Jones, meanwhile, hands George Furbank a Test debut at full-back, with prop Will Stuart likely to get his first cap off the bench in an England team featuring 12 starters from the World Cup final.

Owen Farrell, one of five players from crisis-hit Saracens in the match-day squad, again captains the English from inside centre.

Jones predicted that the youthful France side, many of whom played for the country's world championship-winning u-20 side, "will have never have played against a brutal physicality and intensity that we are going to play with on Sunday".

That didn't sit well with some French people, the word carrying connotations of violence in the language of Voltaire.

"You saw in the World Cup final how important aggression is," said Jones.

"It's going to be the same on Sunday. I apologise if it's been interpreted the wrong way.

"You only have got to watch the World Cup to see how brutal the game is. It's a tough game and we intend to play tough on Sunday."

Jones added that French teams "never have been and never will be" shy of being brutal themselves, before adding: "It's a bit of a pointless conversation, to be honest."

After a training camp in Nice, Fabien Galthie has picked youthful France match-day squad

Fabien Galthie got a taste of English brutality when he tackled Lawrence Dallaglio in the 2003 World Cup semi-final

Eddie Jones said England are scarred after losing the World Cup final but to deal with it will by playing rugby of 'absolute britality'