I have been in France this week and their team have been absolutely slaughtered by the press following their capitulation to Wales.
The usual suspects have been blamed: they have too many foreigners; the clubs are too strong; the players are too heavy — but I would rather be coaching France than England for this game.
This is the reverse of last weekend where England went in with everyone lauding Ireland and the past week will have been a really tough one for head coach Eddie Jones. So much energy went into preparing for Ireland and it will take a lot to refocus, especially when going from underdog to overwhelming favourites.
France were slaughtered after a capitulation against Wales but they are a danger to England
Having beaten Ireland, England went from underdogs to overwhelming favourites this week
I would be worried if I were England. Everyone has been building them up after their great win last week and no one is giving France a hope. They might have lost 15 of their last 18 Tests but expect fireworks.
The great American football coach Vince Lombardi said ‘winning is a habit, unfortunately so is losing’. France epitomise that. They have to learn how to win, because at the moment they are experts in losing.
I am a big fan of French rugby and they are the only international team I would coach outside of England. They are a seriously talented side who like playing against England, are not intimidated by Twickenham and are in a corner so will be very dangerous.
No one is giving France a hope at Twickenham this weekend but they are a very talented team
They threw away a 16-point half-time lead against Wales last week to lose but they won 100 per cent of their lineouts and 100 per cent of their scrums. Brilliant.
But Morgan Parra missed seven points from the tee and Camille Lopez three. If only they had a world-class goal-kicker like Owen Farrell or Jonny Wilkinson, they would have ticked all three key boxes to win an international.
Their mistakes were down to fatigue rather than being a bad team. Look at the mistakes of Yoann Huget, dropping the ball on his line so that George North could score, and Sebastien Vahaamahina, throwing a bad pass at the end which was intercepted. I don’t think that would have happened in the first 10 minutes.
I can’t understand why international players are not fit. That is not the clubs’ fault; at this level it is down to the individual player.
They lost the Wales game because of fitness, which means you don’t touch the ball down when you should, you throw a speculative pass when you shouldn’t, you start to miss kicks at goals and then you forget who the captain is.
That all comes from being off the pace mentally and physically.
Fitness was the reason they collapsed against Wales and responsibility lands with the players
But at the start they were brilliant and that is how England must assume they are going to play for the full 80 minutes.
Last Friday night at half-time the coach needed to say to them: ‘Win the second half and you win the game’. There is no way they should have lost.
The French approach to substitutions drives me nuts. Parra had an awful time off the tee but was outstanding elsewhere and is one of their true leaders.
They also removed Louis Picamoles, one of their truly world-class players, and captain Guilhelm Guirado just as they regained the lead. Why would you ever take him off in such circumstances? It is no surprise the pass which was intercepted was thrown after his exit.
If they were going into the England game with the same squad who played against Wales I think they would have had a real chance of winning.
What has swung it back England’s way are injuries to Wesley Fofana and Uini Atonio and a few panic selections — they have dropped Paul Willemse and Wenceslas Lauret and moved Huget to full-back in place of Maxime Medard.
England cannot afford to take the visitors lightly or they risk suffering a Six Nations upset
By changing a couple of their pack their much-talked about ‘heaviest-ever pack’ is now lighter than England’s, so expect them to be more dynamic. Having said that, France need to be well ahead with 20 minutes to go or England will win it.
I really like the England team again and am happy with Chris Ashton replacing Jack Nowell. Nowell was outstanding in Ireland but at home against France I feel Ashton will find the space that makes him so dangerous.
The only other change is Courtney Lawes coming in for the injured Maro Itoje, so it is still a very strong team, as it was last week.
I am a little surprised by England’s bench changes, though, with Ellis Genge and Harry Williams making way for Ben Moon and Dan Cole. That is a little negative. I think Genge and Williams are Jones’s World Cup replacements.
Moon is good but the Cole selection is a little strange, Jones having left the Leicester prop out of the autumn teams.
Courtney Lawes (left) and Chris Ashton (right) coming into the side is good news for England
The fact that England and France face each other in the final group game of the World Cup makes this even more intriguing.
In 2002 we prepared for South Africa in the autumn as if were the pool game coming a year later. It was the most violent game I have ever seen.
Do not write France off, this is going to be a really tight match and you often see a great response after a great disaster. But England have enough to win it — by a single score.