France meets England for the fourth time in World Cup competition on Saturday, 9pm local time. The French have failed to impress in their previous three meetings; rumours of a player revolt against the increasingly embattled Marc Lievremont, amidst a poor showing in Pool D, has left Les Blues without an ounce of momentum going into the knockout stages. England meanwhile topped Pool B without looking at all threatening; as tough as the Scottish derby was and with due respect to Argentina, the former World Champions are yet to come across a team capable of lifting the Cup. The English do have a very good Cup record against the French, knocking them out of the last two tournaments with ease in recent times – moreover a Six Nations victory at Twickenham this year should give England a mental edge against the befuddled French side. France however has built a reputation around becoming unplayable when all seems lost; the scene is set once again for Les Blues to shine.
Martin Johnston has made four changes to the team that squeaked past Scotland, most notably replacing the controversial Mike Tindall with Toby Flood due to the former’s apparently sore leg. Flood seemed in line for a promotion anyhow, as the usual fly-half supplies England with an alternative goal-kicker to the erratic Johnny Wilkinson while adding flair to a back-line in need of inspiration. Mark Cueto also returns to the left wing courtesy of suspension to Delon Armitage, while a niggling back injury is not enough to keep Nick Easter from stealing the No.8 spot from James Haskell. Lock Tom Palmer is also named in a pack backed by a further 5 replacements on the bench.
The French have different issues at fly-half; Dimitri Yachvili and Morgan Parra are outstanding kickers but once again find themselves partnered in the halves despite both being specialist scrumhalves. Lievremont has kept faith with his entire backline despite their anonymity against Tonga as Francois Trinh-Duc and Cedric Heymans look on from the bench; the pack however receives a much-needed injection of physicality with Imanol Harinordoquy returning to the back of the scrum against his favourite opposition. Nicolas Mas also starts in an intimidating front row after being hamstrung for the final three pool matches.
Everything in this build-up points to another English win; their team seems united against all comers, Johnston has chosen a team popular with armchair commentators and they face a team in disarray. The French once again have a bizarre team selection, are on a two-match losing streak and are fed up with their coach. Sound familiar? France by 5!
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Lewis Moody (c), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Matt Stevens.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Courtney Lawes, 19 Simon Shaw, 20 James Haskell, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Matt Banahan.
France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Morgan Parra, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, 7 Julien Bonnaire, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Lionel Nallet, 4 Pascal Pape, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 Julien Pierre, 19 Louis Picamoles, 20 Francois Trinh-Duc, 21 David Marty, 22 Cédric Heymans.