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The hunters are now the hunted. England’s turbo-charged win in Dublin has transformed the landscape, not only making them new favourites for the 2019 Guinness Six Nations title but announcing themselves as genuine contenders for the World Cup later this year.
Andy Robinson, England’s coach when they last lost a Six Nations match to France at Twickenham, called last weekend’s victory England’s “most complete performance for ten years… anger, ferocity, for me that’s the template for how they should play”.
Fifty-odd dominant collisions, a fifth of them by loosehead Mako Vunipola, lay at the heart of the 32-20 success, but England’s kicking game – giving them 64% territory despite long spells without the ball – was almost as impressive.
Centre Mathieu Bastareaud returns for France’s Six Nations fixture against England on Sunday as South Africa-born lock Paul Willemse is dropped to the bench among six changes, the French Rugby Federation announced.
The experienced Bastareaud, who has 50 caps, was not included for last weekend’s loss to Wales in the competition’s opening game but is recalled for the trip to Twickenham.
La Rochelle’s Geoffrey Doumayrou joins Bastareaud in the midfield as Wesley Fofana is sidelined by a thigh injury and teenager Romain Ntamack falls to the bench.
Coach Jacques Brunel said Bastareaud was being recalled to counter England’s physical strength.
“We know the impact he will have. Against the power they have in midfield which has been strengthened by Manu Tuilagi he can have an interesting impact,” Brunel said.
“He’s important for the team as a whole. It’s important that he starts because he’s an important option to face England,” he added.
Bastareaud said he was too old to have bitter feelings after missing out on selection last week.
“I’m 30, I’ve learned to be above the idea of being vengeful. Choices were made, you can like them or dislike them, but you have to accept them,” he said.
“We’re going to England without much to lose because everyone thinks we’re going to get thrashed. We have to go there and try things. It’s up to us to go there and cause problems,” he added.
Bastareaud and Doumayrou were Brunel’s starting midfield partnership for six of 11 games last year including the 22-16 Six Nations victory over Eddie Jones’ team in Paris.
Willemse, who made his France debut against Warren Gatland’s side, is replaced by 24-year-old Felix Lambey who will start his first Test match after three appearances as a substitute.
The other changes see youngster Demba Bamba start his maiden Test at tight-head prop instead of injured Uini Atonio, flanker Yacouba Camara is in for Wenceslas Lauret who misses out completely and Stade Francais’ Gael Fickou is brought in on the left wing.
The shuffle of the back three is forced because of Maxime Medard’s thigh problem as Yoann Huget wears the full-back’s shirt.
Toulouse pair Thomas Ramos and Dorian Aldegheri could make their international debuts as replacements.
Meanwhile, England coach Eddie Jones has dropped Jack Nowell from his starting side and recalled Chris Ashton on the right wing against France in the Six Nations at Twickenham on Sunday.
Ashton came off the bench to replace Nowell six minute before the end of England’s impressive 33-20 first-round win away to reigning Six Nations champions Ireland last weekend.
The 31-year-old Sale flyer knows France well, having returned to England from Top 14 club Toulon before the start of this season.
Sunday’s match will be Ashton’s first start in the Six Nations since 2013.
The other change to the side announced Friday is in the pack where Courtney Lawes comes into the second row after Maro Itoje suffered a knee injury against Ireland in Dublin.
Front rows Dan Cole and Ben Moon, as well as second row Joe Launchbury, are included on the bench for the first time in this Six Nations.
There are two changes to the starting XV that played against Ireland. Chris Ashton has been recalled in place of Jack Nowell on the right wing, Courtney Lawes is in for the injured lock Maro Itoje. Until the start of this season, Sale wing Ashton was playing for French side Toulon, but it was the 31-year-old’s record of 20 tries in 43 Tests for England that was a key factor in his promotion to the starting side. “We’ve just got a gut feeling he’ll be right for the start of the game and Jack will be right for the end of the game,” explained coach Eddie Jones.
With six changes to the starting line-up there is plenty to look out for. Top of the list is the inclusion of Mathieu Bastareaud, who has been reunited with Geoffrey Doumayrou in the midfield – the same pairing who helped beat England in Paris last year. The other change in the backs comes on the wing, where Gaël Fickou, who came on as a replacement against Wales last week, is installed on the wing, with Yoann Huget moving to fullback. In the forwards, prop Demba Bamba comes into the front row in place of the injured Uini Atonio, while lock Felix Lambey gets the nod ahead of Paul Willemse. In the back row, Yacouba Camara is at No.6 in place of Wenceslas Lauret.
No doubt the midfield battle will be brutal – Henry Slade and Manu Tuilagi (England) against Mathieu Bastareaud ad Geoffrey Doumayrou (France). If it is skill you are looking for, then cast your eyes to the flyhalf battler between Owen Farrell (England) against Camille Lopez (France).
Six Nations: England vs France teams
England (15-1): Elliot Daly; Chris Ashton, Henry Slade, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May; Owen Farrell (capt), Ben Youngs;Billy Vunipola, Tom Curry, Mark Wilson; George Kruis, Courtney Lawes; Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Ben Moon, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes, Dan Robson, George Ford, Jack Nowell
France (15-1): Yoann Huget, Damien Penaud, Mathieu Bastareaud, Geffroy Doumayrou, Gael Fickou; Camille Lopez, Morgan Parra; Louis Picamoles, Arthur Iturria, Yacouba Camara, Felix Lambey, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Demba Bamba, Guilhem Guirado, Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Dany Priso, Dorian Aldegheri, Paul Willemse, Gregory Alldritt, Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Thomas Ramos.