England’s hopes of securing successive Six Nations championships are surely over after ill-disciplined defeats by Scotland and Triple Crown winners Wales, but they could still have a sizable say in the outcome of the 2021 tournament.
Marshalled by elite scrum-half Antoine Dupont, Les Bleus look every inch title contenders once again under Fabien Galthie, yet a Covid-19 outbreak threatened to derail their bid for glory and led to the postponement of Scotland’s visit to Paris a fortnight ago.
Max Malins will make his first start for England today as Luke Cowan-Dickie and Charlie Ewels also come in, while France have Virimi Vakatawa back and Romain Ntamack in reserve.
Follow England vs France live with updates from Will Macpherson at Twickenham…
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England draft in referees
To that end, England have drafted Test referees Wayne Barnes and Matthew Carley into training this week to help them stay on the right side of the game’s laws going forward and understand some of the more confusing decisions.
“You’ve got to be careful that you don’t create artificial situations that are meaningless [in training],” said defence coach John Mitchell.
“We need awareness around why he [the referee] made that decision. It’s a really good opportunity to grow your awareness around refereeing decisions.”
England must improve discipline
There is no doubt what area England MUST improve if they are to deny talented France a first Six Nations win at Twickenham for 16 years this afternoon.
Despite the huge controversy over Wales’ first-half tries in Cardiff a fortnight ago, the visitors managed to level the scores with 20 minutes left, only to then let themselves down with more rampant ill-discipline.
They gave away 14 penalties at the Principality Stadium in total – taking their tally for the tournament as a whole to a whopping 41.
That simply cannot continue if they are to prove successful in their final pair of matches against Les Bleus and Andy Farrell’s Ireland.
Mako Vunipola: No England ‘untouchables’
England’s starting loose-head prop Mako Vunipola has insisted in the build-up to the latest edition of ‘Le Crunch’ that there are no undroppable players in Eddie Jones’ team.
“I don’t know who these untouchables are,” he said.
“There’s no such thing as untouchables. When you have a captain as Faz [Owen Farrell], there is the perception that they’re undroppable.
“But the way that we’re picked is the way you are on the field in training and around the park and the environment.
“I’ve been in and around the squad, and nothing is taken for granted. Eddie is not afraid to make big calls. We understand that as players.”
Vakatawa back for France; Ntamack on bench
After the Covid-19 chaos that led to the postponement of their home clash with Scotland, France are boosted today by the return of formidable centre Virimi Vakatawa, who missed the wins over Italy and Ireland with a knee issue.
Romain Ntamack is also back after his fractured jaw, but for now he’s held in reserve with understudy Matthieu Jalibert keeping his place at fly-half.
Teddy Thomas is back on the right wing with Gabin Villiere injured, while in the second row Bernard Le Roux is replaced by Romain Taofifenua and Dylan Cretin starts at flanker.
The likes of superstar scrum-half Antoine Dupont and captain Charles Ollivon are fine to feature after contracting coronavirus.
France XV: Brice Dulin, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Damian Penaud, Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont, Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (C), Dylan Cretin, Paul Willemse, Romain Taofifenua, Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille
Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Dorian Aldegheri, Cyril Cazeaux, Cameron Woki, Anthony Jelonch, Baptiste Serin, Romain Ntamack
England XV: Max Malins, Anthony Watson, Henry Slade, Owen Farrell (C), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs, Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Charlie Ewels, Mark Wilson, Tom Curry, Billy Vunipola
Replacements: Jamie George, Ellis Genge, Will Stuart, Jonny Hill, Ben Earl, Dan Robson, Ollie Lawrence, Elliot Daly
England team news
The headline team news from an England perspective is that Max Malins makes his first senior international start at full-back in place of Elliot Daly, who is dropped to the bench after 34 successive Test starts.
The hooker rotation continues with Jamie George once again making way for Luke Cowan-Dickie, while in the second row Charlie Ewels replaces Jonny Hill.
Eddie Jones has opted for a five-forwards/three-backs bench split instead of the usual six/two, with Ollie Lawrence back in the matchday squad after not featuring since waiting for an hour to even touch the ball in the sobering Calcutta Cup defeat by Scotland on opening weekend.
The uncapped Leicester forward George Martin drops out.
How to watch England vs France
TV channel: In the UK, England vs France is being broadcast live on ITV, with coverage beginning at 4.15pm GMT.
Live stream: Fans can also tune into the match online via the ITV Hub or ITV website.
Date, time and venue
England vs France is scheduled for a 4:45pm GMT kick-off today – Saturday, March 13, 2021.
The match will be played behind closed doors at Twickenham due to Government restrictions relating to coronavirus.
Welcome to England vs France coverage
Hello and welcome to Standard Sport’s latest LIVE coverage of the 2021 Six Nations!
Two weeks on from their ill-disciplined defeat to Triple Crown winners Wales in Cardiff, England – whose championship hopes are all but over after two losses in their first three games – return to action this afternoon against Grand Slam-hunting France, who have not won at Twickenham in this competition since 2005.
Can Eddie Jones’ side capitalise on the recent chaos around Les Bleus caused by a Covid-19 outbreak and potentially deal a decisive blow to their championship chances, or are Fabien Galthie’s men poised to keep their title hopes very much alive?
Will Macpherson is on hand at English rugby HQ to find out…